There’s often so much talk about Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s plans this time of the year. But, for many, Kwanzaa is the lit-est part of the holiday season.

For seven days, Black people who observe gather to celebrate Black culture, heritage and excellence. With all the heavy stuff going on in the world, the opportunity to come together can be the type of relief that people need now more than ever.

Kwanzaa has gained much more popularity since its start in the late ’60s, but it’s always a good time to dive into the history of it. So whether you’re an OG observer or thinking about celebrating for the first time, here’s a list of facts to get you ready for Kwanzaa 2023.

1. Kwanzaa’s terminology and principles are taken from one of Africa’s most commonly spoken languages.

Kwanzaa is a celebration of seven principles, and the words used to identify these principles are taken from the African dialect known as Swahili. The seven principles are:

The word “Kwanzaa” also derives from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya Kwanza” which means “first fruits.” Moreover, the commonly used Kwanzaa greeting, “Habari Gani” — which is often used to introduce the principle of the day — is a Swahili phrase that means “What’s the news?”

2. Kwanzaa is modeled after traditional African harvest festivals.

Kwanzaa was created during the late ’60s after the Watts Riots that raged through Los Angeles. The riots sparked due to the racial violence that Black people experienced at the hands of cops. Kwanzaa was meant to unite Black people in light of this moment of resistance and the ongoing movements for Black liberation throughout the ’60s and ’70s.

The holiday is not rooted in religion, which means Kwanzaa can be observed at the same time as Christmas and other religious holidays. Instead, those who created the celebration were inspired by African harvest celebrations practiced by the Zulu and Ashanti tribes.

3. Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration, but a large feast typically occurs on the sixth day.

While Kwanzaa is spread across seven days, one particular day is reserved for a unique feast. This feast is called Karamu and takes place on Dec. 31. The feast is meant to be a gathering that includes food, lighting of the candles and community. The menu for the Karamu feast commonly consists of dishes from Southern, Caribbean and African cultures.

4. It is customary to give handmade and educational gifts during Kwanzaa.

Throughout the seven days of Kwanzaa, those who celebrate are encouraged to move away from the capitalistic spirit of the traditional holiday season by trading purchased gifts for ones that require a little more thought and effort.

Those who celebrate are expected to give gifts that tap into creative talents or foster learning opportunities. Some gift ideas include original artwork, sharing poetry, a new book or even cooking a meal. The point is to get creative and be intentional.

5. Although Black Americans created Kwanzaa, members of the African diaspora celebrate the holiday worldwide.

What started as a week-long celebration in California has grown into a global movement to connect people from all parts of the diaspora. This celebration of Black culture and heritage is now observed by people across the globe. Now, it is common to see Kwanzaa celebrations in homes throughout Europe, the Caribbean and South America.

According to National Geographic, somewhere between half a million and 12 million people participate in Kwanzaa each year. And while some believe that fewer people are celebrating the holiday now than in the past, it’s still remarkable to think about its global impact.

6. In addition to the seven principles, there are seven symbols that are essential to the festivities.

The number seven plays a recurring role in Kwanzaa. Not only is the word “Kwanzaa” seven letters long, but the holiday is a seven-day celebration of seven principles, and there are also seven symbols that play a big role. The symbols are:

7. Kwanzaa celebrations are not just meant to empower the living. It is also customary to pour libations in honor of the ancestors.

In addition to being an opportunity to gather Black families to celebrate their efforts, experiences and connection to the African diaspora, Kwanzaa also focuses on honoring those no longer with us. This is seen in the framed images of loved ones who have passed placed near the Kinara, and in the special time, set aside to pour libations.

The libation ceremony can occur at any point during the seven days and welcomes those who celebrate to pour libations from the unity cup. The practice allows participants to call out the names of deceased loved ones and leaders to honor their existence and contributions. When an ancestor’s name is called, water is poured from the cup as an offering.

8. It is expected that the principles of Kwanzaa are practiced year-round.

Unlike most holidays, Kwanzaa does not culminate in one day of the entire year. Though the celebration lasts one week, the observance of its principles is meant to go beyond the last week of December. The expectation is that through the celebration, those who celebrate make plans to practice the principles throughout the year.

9. The controversial legacy of its founder often sparks backlash.

Like most things created by Black people, Kwanzaa has always been subject to criticism. For one, many do not see the value of celebrating a “made-up holiday” — though couldn’t you argue that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are also made up? But, more importantly, some people struggle with looking past the complicated legacy of Dr. Mulana Karenga, who is considered the holiday’s founder.

In the ’70s Dr. Karenga was convicted of imprisoning and abusing two women who were part of a Black nationalist organization that he was a member of. Though he initially pleaded not guilty to these crimes, he was found guilty and served time in prison. After his time behind bars, he earned his doctorate and now teaches.

10. Many celebrities celebrate Kwanzaa.

This should really come as no surprise mainly because who wouldn’t want to celebrate the greatness of Black people? But, just in case you’re looking for the celebrity seal of approval to jump on the bandwagon, many celebrities partake in lighting Kwanzaa candles each year.

According to Madame Noire, some of our favorite celebrities including Stevie Wonder, Nia Long and Malcolm Lee have previously shared that they celebrate Kwanzaa.

Holly Robinson Peete, known for her role, at one point, told media outlets that her kids learn more about Black history during the week of Kwanzaa than they do all school year. Considering that schools are enforcing book bans and removing or changing Black history from school curricula nationwide, celebrating a holiday about Black culture and excellence should be all the convincing you need to join in this year.

11. Kwanzaa is an opportunity for Black people to reflect and set intentions for the year ahead.

While Kwanzaa is a time to gather and celebrate, it also offers participants a space to reflect on how they practice the principles of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith, daily.

This intentional reflection is crucial to Black people’s ability to continue creating a safer world for Black lives and futures. The reflection makes those who celebrate accountable for driving change and puts them in community with other folks who are willing to do the work.

If it does nothing else, Kwanzaa creates safe spaces for Black people to consider how they inject Black joy and liberation into their day-to-day lives, which fosters an understanding that change truly starts on an intimate and granular level. And that is powerful.