Queer Kwanzaa

Daniel J. Downer
3 min readDec 30, 2020


We can all learn some things from Queering Kwanzaa

Habari gani? What’s the news? Kwanzaa 2020 is upon us, and maybe you have never thought to observe it. Growing up, I knew all about Kwanzaa as it was something my family celebrated religously. But I noticed that among my Black Queer friends, I was part of the “minority” that observed Kwanzaa. That was until recently.

The past few years I have invited more and more of my Black Queer friends to celebrate Kwanzaa with me. Why you ask? Because when I think about Kwanzaa, I think about it as a way to really affirming my Black and Queer identities. The central theme of Kwanzaa is authentic community, and as Queer people who are often forced to give up some part of ourselves every day to exist safely in the world, queering Kwanzaa becomes a beautiful way to end the year and bring in the new one.

Here are some ways I think we can all learn something from the principles of Kwanzaa and the Black folks, like myself who are queering them.

Kwanzaa builds rituals and traditions

Rituals are comforting in a world that seems super out of control. When what feels like 100 different things are happening each day, it’s comforting to create a ritual of spending the last days of the year in community with other queer folks.

Whether or not you are able to formally get together with people this year, try and spend the days from December 26-January 1 thinking about Kwanzaa’s Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles. Each of these principles offers something to meditate on throughout the day. If you want some inspiration, Carolyn Wysinger made a series to guide individuals through each day. The seven principles are: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). Interpret them as loosely as you’d like to and think about them with some queer friends.

Kwanzaa is intergenerational

Kwanzaa is a perfect time to spend time with folks of all ages. If you celebrate, extend your celebrations to those in different seasons of life than you, and make effort to think about the future with the everyone involved, from the very young to the experienced.

Another great thing about Kwanzaa is that gifts are given, it is typically to children but because Kwanzaa is intergenerational, take the opportunity to gift those you love. Regardless of who gets a gift, it is tradition that the gift be personalized and must support a Black business.

Kwanzaa reaffirms your chosen family

The last few days of the year can sometimes be especially lonely for folks, especially those who may not have celebrated any other holidays with their families. Instead of sitting alone for the last bit of break before the new year, celebrating Kwanzaa encourages us to spend time with our chosen family. Reaffirming our relationships with those who mean the most to us is always important, but Kwanzaa’s seven principles make spending time together all the more meaningful.

Kwanzaa helps you bring light into the new year

Like many other winter holidays, Kwanzaa incorporates lighting candles. At some point in the evening, folks are encouraged to gather together and light a candle on a kinara that corresponds with the daily principle. It’s a time to pause and silently reflect. I love the act of lighting candles in the winter. It’s literally bringing light into what sometimes feels like the darkest part of the year. Where I live, it’s dark almost 13 hours a day, and it’s nice to be able to bring some light into that darkness through this simple act. You don’t have to get a kinara, but maybe take some time and light your favorite candle each night of Kwanzaa. The world feels pretty dark in all the ways possible, and this is just a little something we can do to bring in some light with the new year.

If you have been celebrating Kwanzaa, tell me about your experiences in the comment section! And if you have not, maybe 2021 is the year that you decide to get together a few friends and celebrate. At least spend those days leading up to the new year meditating on the seven principles. Your January 1st will thank you.



Daniel J. Downer

Daniel J. Downer is a DEI Consultant with The Equality Institute and Executive Director of The Bros in Convo Initiative, a Black Queer grassroots organization.