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Decorating a Table for the Kwanzaa Feast (Karamu)

Decorating a Table for the Kwanzaa Feast (Karamu)

Decorating a Table for the Kwanzaa Feast (Karamu)

On December 31, the sixth night of Kwanzaa, family and friends gather for the karumu, the ritual feast that honors the African-American community, its culture and its ancestors. Throughout the seven-day holiday, each family prominently displays the seven symbols of Kwanzaa, usually on a table in the living room. For the karumu, however, those symbols take center stage on the feasting table.


  • For a more African touch, serve the karumu on a low table with guests seated on plump, colorful floor cushions.
  • For Kwanzaa recipes and decorating inspiration, visit your local African-American bookstore.
  • The seven principles of Kwanzaa are unoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith).
  • In keeping with ujima, the third principle of Kwanzaa, make your feast a collaborative effort; let your family and friends get involved in whatever way best suits their talents and inclinations.
  • The seven symbols are mkeka (a mat, upon which the other symbols rest), mazao (crops, the result of productive labor and the harvest), kinara (a candleholder, representing African ancestors), muhindi (corn, representing children and the future), zawadi (gifts - ideally handmade - given as an act of sharing and a labor of love), kikombe cha umoja (the unity cup, representing family and community) and mishumaa saba (seven candles - three red, three green and one black - representing the seven principles).


  1. Spread a red, green or black cloth on the table.
  2. Place the mkeka in the center of the table. The mkeka, a mat made of straw or woven fabric, represents an African saying that “no matter how high a house is built, it must stand on something.”
  3. Set the kinara, or candleholder, on the mkeka, and in the kinara, place seven candles: three red, three green and one black.
  4. Add a bowl of mazao - fruits and vegetables to represent the harvest - and an ear of corn, called muhindi, for each child living at home. If you have no children at home, use two ears of corn to signify the concept of community parenthood.
  5. Arrange any zawadi, or gifts, that you'll be exchanging, on the mkeka.
  6. Set the kikombe cha umoja, or unity cup, on the mkeka and fill it with wine or grape juice when dinner is served; later, after the guests have recited the tamshi la tambiko, or libation statement, each one will drink from the cup and pass it on around the table.


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