Sharing the Timeless Principles of Kwanzaa through Stamps and Buttons

In the midst of a pandemic, there's no more important time to consider harmonious and principled togetherness in the family, the neighborhood, the nation, and the world.

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

A collaboration between the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Postal Museum.

Pinback button celebrating Kwanzaa (1960–1999) by UnidentifiedSmithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Kwanzaa is a non-religious, African-American holiday symbolizing the need for a harmonious and principled togetherness in the family, the neighborhood, the nation, and the world.

Pinback button for Kwanzaa (after 1966) by UnidentifiedSmithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

A nonreligious holiday, Kwanzaa takes place over seven days from December 26 to January 1. 

The holiday draws on African traditions and takes its name from the phrase for "first fruits" in Swahili, a widely spoken African language.

Digital Kwanzaa Coloring Book

Many of the buttons and stamps in this story are available for you to color in your own expressive style in this Kwanzaa Art Coloring Book, a collaboration between the Smithsonian and Google Arts and Culture.

Forever Kwanzaa Stamp (2011) by Artist Daniel MinterSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

Kwanzaa is a time for families and communities to take time to remember the past and to celebrate African American culture. On this U.S. postage stamp, a family comes together to light the Kinara. 

Kinara is a Swahili word that means candle holder. The seven candles represent the Seven Principles (or Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa.

Pinback button celebrating the seven principles of Kwanzaa (1960–1999) by UnidentifiedSmithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

During this week long holiday, we learn about the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa that help us to continue building and maintaining unified and empowered communities.

The seven guiding principles that Kwanzaa celebrates are Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperation), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).

Flyer about Kwanzaa history, principles, and symbols (1987) by ACM Education DepartmentOriginal Source: Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum

As noted on this Smithsonian flyer from the 1980s, Kwanzaa was developed by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga, in the United States. He adapted the principles of African harvest festivals to create a uniquely American celebration.

He emphasized that the principles found in producing the harvest are vital to the building and maintenance of strong and wholesome communities.

Kwanzaa is that time when we reflect on our use of the principles, share and enjoy the fruits of our labor, and recommit ourselves to the collective achievement of a better life for family and community.

Carver Theater before renovation (1967) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

In 1967, only one year after Dr. Karenga formulated the Kwanzaa celebration, the Smithsonian opened the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum (now the Anacostia Community Museum) in the former Carver Theater on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave in Washington, DC.

Original Anacostia Neighborhood Museum (1967) by UnknownSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

Very soon after opening, the Smithsonian began holding annual Kwanzaa celebrations for the local community.

32c Kwanzaa stamp (1997-10-22) by Synthia Saint JamesSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

Since it's origins in the 60s, Kwanzaa has become an integral part of American culture. On October 22, 1997, the Postal Service issued its first Kwanzaa stamp, in Los Angeles, California. It is the second issue in the Holiday Celebrations Series that was begun in 1996 to reflect a different cultural or ethnic holiday each year. 

39c Kwanzaa stamp (2006-10-06) by United States Postal ServiceSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

On October 26, 2007, in New York, New York, the Postal Service issued a 41-cent Kwanzaa stamp designed by Derry Noyes of Washington, DC. The stamp design was previously issued with a 37-cent denomination in 2004 and with a 39-cent denomination in 2006.

44c Kwanzaa Stamp (2009) by Carl T. HerrmanSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

On October 9, 2009, in New York, New York, at the Mega Stamp Show, the Postal Service issued a 44-cent Kwanzaa stamp in a pressure-sensitive adhesive pane of twenty. This was the third stamp design issued by the U.S. Postal Service in celebration of Kwanzaa.

32c Kwanzaa Stamp Sheet (1997-10-22) by Synthia Saint JamesSmithsonian's National Postal Museum

The Post Office continues to issue new Kwanzaa stamps, reminding us to reflect on our use of the basic principles, share and enjoy the fruits of our labor, and recommit ourselves to the collective achievement of a better life for our family, our community, and our people.

Credits: Story

You can find more beautiful Kwanzaa stamps in the National Postal Museum's collection.

You can try your hand as a graphic artist by coloring in your own versions of these stamps and button through the  Kwanzaa Art Coloring Book, a collaboration between the Smithsonian and Google Arts and Culture.

Starting Dec. 26, visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture's Kwanzaa Web Page, featuring interactive content and projects include a blog on Kwanzaa, its origins and celebration traditions from museum oral historian Kelly Navies, sing-alongs, coloring pages, book recommendations and recipes for the celebration feast Karamu Ya Imani.

Buttons Provided by
Doug Remley
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Smithsonian Institution

Collaboration Support by
William Lommel
National Postal Museum
Smithsonian Institution

Story Design by
Marc Bretzfelder
Office of the Chief Information Officer
Smithsonian Institution

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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