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Kwanza - A New Year Celebration

To enable the children to identify the values that will help bring the school together during the coming year.

by Gill O'Neill

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To enable the children to identify values that will help bring the school together during the coming year.

Note: The concepts in this assembly are difficult for KS1 children, but the symbolic and ritualistic elements will speak to many of them.

Preparation and materials

  • Prepare seven KS2 children to sit in a circle at the front around a bowl of fruit (placed on a straw mat if one is available). You will need to explain to them about the safety aspects of holding lighted candles.
  • You will need seven tall candles and some matches.
  • Prepare seven sheets of A4 paper or card with the following printed one on each:
    Umaja - togetherness
    Kujichagulia - self-determination
    Ujima - collective work and responsibility
    Ujamaa - sharing
    Nia - purpose
    Kuumba - creativity
    Imani - faith
  • You will also need a felt marker pen.


  1. Explain that between the 26th and 31st December many African American families in the United States celebrate the Festival of Kwanza. It is a relatively new festival, which is not religious, and was invented in 1966 by Maulara Karenga. (There are many web sites that will give you more background if needed.) Like many other festivals, celebration takes the form of singing, dancing, speaking, and reciting traditional stories and poems.

  2. Explain that we are thinking about this now because it is the start of our new year together - the school year. Tell the children that Kwanza is a Swahili word that means first or first fruits. It originated as an African festival of Harvest. However, the African American Festival is more of a new year celebration.

    Celebrations take place over seven days, and each day a candle is lit and a special value or virtue is considered.

    Explain that the family would sit round each day and share a pot of soup or a bowl of fruit and think about the closeness of the family.

    As you describe the virtue to be thought about on each day, call on one of the children to stand and hold the corresponding sheet of paper and a candle.

    On the first day they think of Umaja - which means togetherness.
    The second day's celebration is based on Kujichagulia - self-determination.
    The third, Ujima - collective work and responsibility.
    The fourth, Ujamaa - sharing.
    The fifth, Nia - purpose.
    The sixth, Kuumba - creativity.
    And the last day concentrates on Imani - faith.

  3. Explain that the family place their candles in a special candlestick called a Kinara (not unlike a Menorah). The idea is that these principles will bring people together and remind them of how important they are to each other.

  4. Ask the children if they can think of any values or principles that would bring the children and adults of your school closer together. What aspects are important features of school life?

    Choose seven good ideas (they may be similar to the originals) and write these on the reverse sides of the sheets of paper. You may need to prompt some ideas to get things going - working hard, having fun together, helping people.

    Suggest to the children that their suggestions are values that we should all concentrate on during the coming year.

Time for reflection

Light each candle in turn, and as you do so read out the new value being held with the candle. Allow a moment between lighting each candle.

We are meeting together at the beginning of a new term and a new year.
We are all full of different hopes, aspirations, worries and talents,
but we are all valuable members of this school community.
During the coming year, help us to remember what is of value to us,
and important in all our lives,
so that we may develop in ourselves and in our school the values of Kwanza:
of sharing, cooperation and working together to the best of our abilities.


'Give me oil in my lamp' (Come and Praise, 43)

Publication date: September 2002   (Vol.4 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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