On the door, instead of Christmas wreaths and red-cheeked Santas, is a red and black card depicting a stern African warrior and the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Saturday, instead of spending the day at crowded malls doing last minute Christmas shopping Koko Farrow and her daughter Tandywe (pronounced tahn-dee-way) were out in the woods of Rock Creek Park, gathering holly, pine and spruce cuttings to place on a straw mat on their living room table, next to red and black candles, fruit, and dried corn.

Yesterday, instead of opening Christmas presents, the Farrows were with their family and friends at a quiet dinner, reflecting on the year's truimphs and problems, and discussing what could be done to lessen problems during the new year.

Today, not yesterday, is when the excitement occurs. Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, the seven-day holiday rich in symbolism that is celebrated by thousands of blacks in America.

"The essence of Kwanzaa is an appreciation of black people, a time and week of 'gathering in' of ourselves . . .," reads part of this month's United Black Community newsletter. "Briefly put, Kwanzaa is a time of remembering, reassessing, recommitting, rewarding dand rejoicing by black people."

Farrow noted that some blacks use Kwanzaa as a substitute for Christmas, and others use it as an addition. To her, it simply is "another phase of my way of life," an extension of the giving and sharing she tried to instill in every day of the year.

Kwanzaa is a celebration Farrow said she has participated in since the late 1960s.

"When I first heard about Kwanzaa, I was young, gifted and black, so to speak, and I had become involved with the Student' Nonviolent Coordinating Commitee and the New School for Afro-American Thought, and we were trying to give birth to the Black United Front," Farrow recalls.

"I felt very creative. When I heard about Kwanzaa, it was right on time for me. I saw Christmas as being too commercial, and I was rejecting commercialism."

She said she came to feel that children "respected Santa Claus and disrespected their parents and families."

Farrow is the former personal secretary to Stokely Carmichael, the civil rights activist of the 1960s, and ran unsuccessfully for a D.C. school board seat in 1975.She is now a director of the African programs for Commission for Racial Justice.

In the case of her daughter, Farrow said, Tandywe knows about the birth of Christ and the wise menbearing gifts. "But she sees Santa as bastardization of the concept. Sometimes she sees Santa and says he represents a lie or a negativism, and sometimes she just sees him as someone bearing gifts." The Farrows do not celebrate Christmas.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa? Seven-year-old Tandywe Mbalia Farrow, whose name roughly means a beloved fighter and warrior for people, knows them.

"Umojo is unity," she said with authority. "Kujichagulia is for self-determination.Ujima - a collective work and responsibility, Ujamaa is cooperative economics, Nia is purpose, Kuumba is creativity, and Imani is faith."

One of the seven candles will be lit each evening of Kwanzaa, and the family will discuss how the priciple for that day can be applied to their lives.

Small, inexpensive and symbolic gifts will be exchanged each day, Farrow said. They also will partially fast, eating only raw fruits and vegetables and drinking juices.

There are many symbolic items important to the celebration of Kwanzaa. The mkeke, or straw mat, symbolizes the earth or a foundation, the kinara or candleholder represents the original stalk from which we all come, the mishumaa are the seven candles, the muhindi or ear of corn represents the children of the house, and the zawadi or presents symbolize the fruits of the labor of the parents and the rewards of seed sown to the children.

Kwanzaa itself means "first fruits" in Swahili and signifies the beginning of a bountiful harvest.

Kwanzaa also is a celebration that brings the community together. There is a large feast with gift exchanging the night before the last day of Kwanzaa (New Year's Eve), and the evening of festivity is to consist of seven things: food, drink, music, dance, conversation, laughter and ceremony.

The Farrows themselves on Tuesday evening will host the families from the Watoto school, the black independent school Tandywe attends, and other similar celebrations will be held each of the seven days.

The Museum of African Art, at 316-318 A St., Ne, is holding Kwanzaa celebrations each afternoon from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. There will be storytelling and singing and a procession of a king a nd queen, and courtiers.

Baba Zulu, the director of the Ujamaa school, shop, and bookstore, noted that Kwanzaa began in California in the late 1960s and was the idea of black nationalist Maulana Ron Karenga. Christmas, Zule said, is a "rip-off of purchasing toys and getting deeper in debt." Zulu said the Kwanzaa celebrations include African dances, drums, songs, and a unity cup that everyone drinks from to "bind us together."

"We live Kwanzaa, its seven principles and values, throughout the year, not just during Kwanzaa," he added. "We try to instill these principles in the children."

Based on the number of Kwanzaaa items he sells in thisstore and the phone calls he receives, Zule estimated that anywhere from 16,000 to 18,000 persons in the Washington area may celebrate Kwanzaa.