Maricopa celebrated its first of three major December holidays.

Residents recognized Kwanzaa a few weeks early with a small celebration at the Maricopa Library and Cultural Center last weekend.

It was the third annual event hosted in the city by Chrysalis Culture Keepers, a local organization that also hosts Juneteenth each year.

The event drew a diverse crowd of about 50 people, mostly students from Maricopa High School, to learn about the holiday’s roots and how to celebrate it at home.

“It’s a chance for the Maricopa community, especially African-Americans, to honor their culture, their ancestors and to share the cultural benefits of the seven principles of Kwanzaa,” said organizer Joanna Vanderpool.

What is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase for “first fruits” and the holiday was created in 1966 by California State University professor Maulana Karenga as a cultural celebration.

Following the community devastation of the Watts Riots in Los Angeles the previous year, Karenga and other community leaders believed creating the holiday could help unite the community, according to

The holiday begins Dec. 26 and runs for seven days. Each day focuses on one of Kwanzaa’s seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Celebrations vary but most families light symbolic candelabras, tell stories, share gifts and enjoy a feast.

No matter how families choose to recognize the holiday, Vanderpool said it ultimately is about culture, community and family.

“That’s what this is about, honoring your culture,” she said. “Honor your culture and celebrate your family and community.”