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Kwanzaa (2024)

First Day of Issue Date: September 25, 2024

First Day of Issue Location: Pittsburgh, PA

About This Stamp

The U.S. Postal Service celebrates Kwanzaa with a stamp issuance in 2024. The annual Pan-African holiday, observed each year from December 26 to January 1, brings together family, community, and culture.

Rendered as a digital collage, the artwork depicts three young performers: a male drummer and, behind and to either side of him, two female dancers. He wears a dark blue, green, and orange kufi, a white shirt, and pants with a geometric black-and-white mud cloth-like pattern. His djembe, blue with a white drumhead, hangs from his neck by a red strap. The two dancers wear orange dresses and gold jewelry. One has a red hair band. All three figures have silhouetted black skin and hair. The floor beneath their feet is diamond-patterned in shades of green, while the background features triangles in shades of red. Each dancer extends a knee and a bit of orange skirt beyond the image frame, into the white margin of the stamp.

Kwanzaa is intended to help unify African Americans from a wide array of religious and cultural backgrounds. It draws on a variety of African traditions, deriving its name from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits.” With origins in ancient and modern first-harvest festivities occurring across the African continent, Kwanzaa incorporates and reimagines many of these communal traditions as a contemporary celebration and reaffirmation of African American culture. Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of its seven principles: Unity (Umoja), Self-Determination (Kujichagulia), Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima), Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa), Purpose (Nia), Creativity (Kuumba), and Faith (Imani). The Kwanzaa colors—black, red, and green—represent, respectively, the Pan-African people, the struggles they have endured through time, and the hope for a better future born from these struggles.

Art director Ethel Kessler designed the stamp with original artwork by Ekua Holmes.

The Kwanzaa stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp in a pane of 20. This Forever stamp will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.

Stamp Art Director, Stamp Designer

Ethel Kessler

Ethel Kessler is an award-winning designer and art director who has worked with corporations, museums, public and private institutions, professional service organizations, and now, the United States Postal Service.  

After earning a B.F.A. in visual communications from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Kessler worked as a graphic designer and project manager for the exhibits division of the United States Information Agency. Her work was distributed internationally on subjects such as Immigration, Entrepreneurship, Renovation of American Cities, and the Bicentennial of 1976. She was also responsible for exhibits in Morocco, Botswana, and El Salvador. 

In 1981, she established Kessler Design, Inc., for which she is creative director and designer. Clients have included the Clinton Government reorganization, the Smithsonian Institution, National Geographic Television, the National Park Service, and the American Institute of Architects.

She has been an art director for the U.S. Postal Service’s stamp development program for more than 25 years. As an art director for USPS, Kessler has been responsible for creating more than 500 stamp designs, including the Breast Cancer Research stamp illustrated by Whitney Sherman. Issued in 1998, the stamp is still on sale and has raised more $98 million for breast cancer research. Other Kessler projects include the popular and highly regarded Nature of America 120 stamp series, a collaboration with nationally acclaimed nature illustrator John Dawson, the 12-year Lunar New Year series with Kam Mak, the American Filmmaking: Behind the Scenes 10 stamps issued in 2003, a 2016 pane of stamps celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and the 2023 stamp honoring Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And many, many others. 

Stamp Artist

Ekua Holmes

Award-winning collage artist Ekua Holmes uses cut and torn paper to investigate family histories, relationship dynamics, childhood impressions, and the power of hope, faith, and self-determination. A lifelong resident of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) in 1977. In 1983 she opened a gallery to show and represent Black artists and help build community among them.

Holmes has won several awards for her children’s book illustrations. Her first project, for Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford (2016), garnered a Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King’s John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, the Robert Siebert Award, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Holmes received the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration in 2018 for her work in Kwame Alexander’s Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets and again in 2019 for Stuff of Stars, by Marion Dane Bauer. More recently, she illustrated Saving American Beach by Heidi Tyline King (2021).

Public art is another arena in which Holmes has been active. Her first initiative grew out of her work on Fannie Lou Hamer, who hailed from Sunflower County, Mississippi. In 2018, Holmes received a Now + There Public Art Accelerator Fellowship to launch The Roxbury Sunflower Project, which involved planting 10,000 sunflower seeds in her neighborhood. The project continues to thrive.

In 2013, Holmes was appointed to the Boston Art Commission and serves as its vice chair. In addition, as associate director of the Center for Art and Community Partnerships at MassArt, she manages and coordinates sparc! The ArtMobile, which offers arts programming predominantly in the Boston neighborhoods of Mission Hill, Roxbury, and Dorchester. She has also created and led workshops, served as a visiting artist and lecturer, and held artist residencies in public and private institutions throughout New England.

Kwanzaa (2024) is Holmes’s first project for the U.S. Postal Service.

First Day of Issue Ceremony

First Day of Issue Date: September 25, 2024
First Day of Issue Location: Pittsburgh, PA