Celebrating Kwanzaa in Chicago: 10 events honoring the holiday

The Chicago area has a number of events planned to celebrate the annual holiday, taking place at cultural centers across the city and suburbs.

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Seven candles are placed in a traditional Kwanzaa “kinara” (candle holder), and one is lit each day of the holiday in honor of the seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa.

Seven candles are placed in a traditional Kwanzaa “kinara” and one is lit each day of the holiday in honor of the seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa.


Starting Monday, the weeklong holiday Kwanzaa will begin, culminating on Jan. 1. Created in 1966 by activist and author Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa celebrates African heritage and history within African American culture. Various rituals and reflection throughout the week are meant to pay homage to traditions and values rooted in continental African and diasporic African cultural elements.

The holiday is rooted in Swahili and has seven principles, known as Nguzo Saba, that make up each of the seven days. They include: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith). Celebrations often include art, poetry, dance, song and food in and outside homes, as well as the kinara candles. The weeklong holiday concludes with a communal feast known as Karamu on the sixth day, which is also New Year’s Eve.

The Chicago area has a number of events planned to celebrate the annual holiday, taking place at cultural centers across the city and suburbs, including these 10 picks:

Dec 26-Jan 1: Nightly Kwanzaa Kinara Lighting Ceremony

The village of Flossmoor celebrates each night of Kwanzaa this week with a lighting of the kinara candles. Held in Flossmoor Park, it’s a special ceremony for all of the community and visitors alike. 2449 Flossmoor Road. Flossmoor. 5 p.m. nightly. Free; flossmoor.org

Dec 26: Kwanzaa at Bronzeville Children’s Museum

The first day of the weeklong holiday kicks off at the museum with special family-friendly programming. It will celebrate the principle of umoja through craft projects, music, face-painting and a visit from the museum’s Kwanzaa King. 9301 S. Stony Island Ave. 1-3 p.m. $5; bronzevillechildrensmuseum.com

Dec 26: “Merry Kwanzaa” at Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre

The Evanston theater will stage its third-annual production of the beloved play from award-winning local playwright Gloria Bond Clunie that shows the distinctions between Christmas and Kwanzaa and hones in on “four generations learning the meaning of love and unity and the power of faith.” Directed by Aubrey Marquez, the show includes a diverse cast of Evanston residents, including former mayor Lorraine H. Morton. The theater advises arriving early to get a seat. 1655 Foster St., Evanston. 3 p.m. Free; cityofevanston.org

Dec 26: Kwanzaa Painting Celebration at Bottle & Bottega

One prominent component of Kwanzaa is the artwork that many display in their homes and at events that celebrate traditional African styles. Lakeview’s Bottle & Bottega studio is hosting a one-night Kwanzaa holiday painting party that lets you create your own piece to take home. All supplies and the canvas will be provided, and the event is BYOB if you are 21+ (attendees must be 18 or older). 2900 N. Lincoln Ave. Starts at 6:30 p.m. $39; paintingwithatwist.com

Dec 26: Kwanzaa Festival at Robert Crown Community Center

Before going to see “Merry Kwanzaa” at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, head to Evanston’s Robert Crown Community Center for a festival event that includes drum circles, African dance, local artists, food vendors, a family arts and crafts station and storytelling, including a presentation of “Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story” by Angela Shelf Medearis. 1801 Main St., Evanston. 1-4 p.m. Free; cityofevanston.org

Dec 27: Kwanzaa – A Story of A Resilient Culture at Malcolm X College

City Colleges of Chicago will host a public event that invites everyone to celebrate Kwanzaa and the reason for the season. The entertainment includes children’s story times, a drum call, performances from the Thunder Sky Drummers, local dance troupe Najwa Dance Corps and award-winning singer Joan Collaso. There will also be an all-day marketplace. 1900 W. Jackson Blvd. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Free; events.ccc.edu

Dec 28: Family Craft Time – Kwanzaa Craft at Chicago Public Library

The North Austin branch of the Chicago Public Library will host a special family craft time during Kwanzaa week, which will lead children and parents in creating holiday placemats just in time for the Karamu feast Dec. 31. The event is open to children ages 3 and above; no preregistration is required. 5724 W. North Ave. 3-4 p.m. Free; chipublib.org

Dec 28: Kwanzaa Observance Program at DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center

Families can come together to celebrate Kwanzaa, honor ancestors and practice traditions in this special “Legacies: Past, Present and Future” event at the museum. The event features a drum call and Kwanzaa ritual at noon, preceded by children’s story time at 11 a.m. and an all-day marketplace with goods from vendors. 740 East 56th Place. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Free; dusablemuseum.org

Dec 29: 2022 African Festival of the Arts Appreciation Party at Harris/Harriet Park

This gathering is a celebration of the fourth principle of Kwanzaa. Hosted by Africa International House USA, there will be music, special presentations and refreshments for attendees. 6200 S. Drexel Ave. 5-8 p.m. Free; eventbrite.com

Dec 31: Kwanzaa at Garfield Park

As the Kwanzaa holiday week winds down, Garfield Park has one more family-friendly event in store. The Chicago Park District space will offer art, music, food and vendors to celebrate with the entire community. 100 N. Central Park Ave. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Free; chicagoparkdistrict.com

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