Kwanzaa connects Torontonians to ancestry as it marks 50th anniversary

Events are planned across the city all week to commemorate Kwanzaa.

'Although we celebrate during these 7 days, we live and embody these principles 365 days a year'

Zakiya Tafari and his daughter Nyashia Tafari celebrate Kwanzaa. (Zakiya Tafari)

Zakiya Tafari remembers celebrating his first Kwanzaa over 20 years ago.

"I was introduced to it at a very young age and just found it to be really empowering," he said.

"There are some guiding principles that really help individuals know who we are as individual black people, what are some of the great things that our ancestry came from and what we need to be doing to move that message forward."

Dancing and drumming play a big part at the annual event, where African-Canadians, and any others who want to participate, celebrate their culture together. (Young and Potential Fathers)

He sees that continuation in his 12-year-old daughter. This year, she bought a new dashiki, a colourful African garment, to wear during their Kwanzaa celebration.

"It's really cool to see a kid who grew-up in a different generation from me, who's very much a modern kid ... but she still respects some of her African ancestry and is proud to embrace it."

The centrepiece of Kwanzaa, according to Tafari, is spending time with each other.

Ujima House will host its sixth annual Kwanzaa celebration, featuring dinner, dancing and drumming this year. (Young and Potential Fathers)

"It's about bringing people together, bringing families together, sharing good food," he said. "It's a great way of just showing the best of some of what our community has to offer."

50th anniversary

This year, Dec. 26 doesn't just mark the first day of Kwanzaa. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the annual pan-African celebration of family, community and culture.

Events are planned across the city all week to commemorate the occasion, including a free event at Ujima House, in the Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue West area, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m Monday. 

It's hosted by Young and Potential Fathers, an organization offering parenting programs to young fathers as well as mentoring, counselling and support.

It's the sixth time they've held a celebration, which will include entertainment, crafting activities for children and a delicious meal that will be a fusion of African, Caribbean and North American cooking. It will also feature drummers, poets and a market selling gifts.

All are welcome to attend, Tafari, the organization's interim managing director said.

Over the past few years, he has seen Kwanzaa become more well-known through online awareness and even finding the decorations now stocked in stores.

Tafari says rather than traditional gifts, he'd like to organize more crafting events so people can create presents if they'd like. (Young and Potential Fathers)

"It's really amazing that something like this has stood the test of time," he said. "It's becoming a little bit more mainstream and more normal."

Kwanzaa is relatively young in the holiday calendar, but the principles are similar to many celebrations this time of year, Tafari said.

"It's like being at a family party during the holidays," he said. "Lots of love, lots of great energy and seeing the great smiles on these kids' faces. It's always inspiring."

At the 2013 event, children created these pencil holders as gifts for their parents using metal cans and pieces of African cloth, according to Tafari. (Young and Potential Fathers)


The first day of Kwanzaa is called "Umoja," which means unity in Swahili. It's the first of seven principles celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana Studies at California State University, is widely known as the creator of Kwanzaa, penning the principles to reinforce African values and culture.

Over the next week, the community will also celebrate "Kujichagulia" (self-determination); "Ujima" (collective work and responsibility), "Ujamaa" (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), "Kuumba" (creativity) and "Imani" (faith.)

Nguzo Saba is Swahili for The Seven Principles. (Young and Potential Fathers)

Ujima House is founded on the event's third principle because it helps provide resources to the community that some people may not otherwise be able to access.

To Tafari, the principles are a way of life.

"Although we celebrate during these seven days, we live and embody these principles 365 days a year."