During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said that it was meant to be an alternative to Christmas. In fact most of the holiday's celebrants were members of the organization—they were cultural nationalists, many leaning towards traditional Afrikan beliefs systems. Naturally, most of these early practitioners of Kwanzaa did not celebrate Christmas. As Kwanzaa gained celebrants outside of the Us organization and its supporters, many Black who were Christians began to practice it. Consequently, Karenga stated in his 1997 book, Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, that Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday" and that Kwanzaa was specifically created as a cultural and not a religious observation. On the holiday's official Website, it states that "one can accept and revere the religious message and meaning [of Christmas] but reject its European cultural accretions of Santa Claus, reindeer, mistletoe, frantic shopping, alienated gift-giving, etc." Is this a contradiction? I'd like to think it is a growth in the celebration of the holiday, and that as it has expanded from its cultural nationalist base and adherents to a more popular base, adaptations have occurred. And that's real. Today many Afrikan Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to observing Christmas. So you can celebrate Kwanzaa in conjunction with any other holiday celebrated.
The celebration of Kwanzaa is organized around the number 7. There are seven principles of Kwanzaa, each celebrated on a different day. The principles, in order, are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. There are also seven symbols: fruits/nuts/vegetables, place mats, ears of corn, candles, candle holders, communal cups and gifts. These seven symbols are arranged on a table at the beginning of Kwanzaa. On each day, members of celebrating households gather together to discuss the principles and perhaps read poems or perform music or dance.
Today is Umoja.