Every December, past and present Harvard affiliates come together at gatherings and parties across the country to make merry and recognize their holiday traditions. For one group of alumni in Atlanta, Ga., this means a Kwanzaa celebration.
On Thursday evening, the Harvard Club of Georgia and the Harvard Black Alumni Society hosted the Kwanzaa Party, an annual alumni event that organizers say is unique to Atlanta.
"Kwanzaa is about making everyone here part of the Harvard family," said Avarita L. Hanson '75, who opened up her home for the event. Hanson said that she sees Kwanzaa as an opportunity to celebrate ancestors and the past, to give thanks, and to enjoy food and fellowship.
Xavier A. Cunningham, president of the Atlanta Chapter of the Harvard Black Alumni Society said that while most other chapters of the Harvard Black Alumni Society host holiday events, he was proud that his chapter had chosen to label its celebration specifically as a Kwanzaa party.
"Every other celebration during the holidays goes back to a European, Christian, or Jewish tradition," Cunningham said. "Kwanzaa is something African Americans own and claim as part of their culture, and we want to maintain this tradition for this subgroup of people within the Harvard alumni community."
Spanning from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 each year, Kwanzaa devotes each night to one of its seven core principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Daily Kwanzaa rituals involve lighting red, green, and black candles in a specific progression and sharing food, drink, and sentiments.
The first Kwanzaa celebrations emerged in 1966 in the wake of the civil rights movement to give Americans of African descent a chance to reflect on their heritage. Scholar and activist Maulana Karenga, the holiday's creator, modeled Kwanzaa after the tradition of African first fruit festivals that celebrated the beginning of each new harvest.
The holiday has a history on campus as well. In 1994, the Black Students Association held its first Kwanzaa celebration, marking the first time the holiday was sponsored by a Harvard undergraduate organization, according to organizers.