The lighting of the forty-five-foot-tall Grand Tree in the Museum of Science and Industry’s Grand Rotunda is scheduled to take place on Thursday, November 19, 2015. The Grand Tree Lighting Ceremony will take place at 10:30 a.m.
This ceremonial tree-lighting, accompanied by musical entertainment, will mark the beginning of the seventy-fourth annual Christmas Around the World and twenty-first annual Holidays of Light festivals. M.S.I. stated in a press release, “This custom began for local families in 1942 with a single tree as a United Nations Day salute to the Allies during World War II. Now the exhibit has grown into a forest of dazzling trees and homemade displays, created by dedicated volunteers.”
The Museum of Science & Industry (M.S.I.) is located at 75th Street and Lake Shore Drive in Jackson Park in the neighborhood of Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago. Bedecked with approximately 30,000 twinkling lights and hundreds of Christmas tree ornaments, the Grand Tree will stand at the center of the Grand Rotunda in the Central Pavilion on the Main Floor of M.S.I. Across the Main Floor, visitors will find over fifty more twelve-foot-tall Christmas trees that will have been decorated by volunteers representing Chicago diverse ethnic communities.
M.S.I. stated, “On the weekends and select weekdays, guests can also enjoy performances of various ethnic dance and choral groups on the Holiday Stage. Santa Claus is making a few stops at MSI this year, and guests will have the opportunity to take their photo with him on these select weekends from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.: Saturday-Sunday, December 5-6; Saturday-Sunday, December 12-13; and Saturday-Sunday, December 19-20.”
Of course, the Christmas tree is very much a Northern European (specifically German) thing. There are many parts of the world where Christians have no tradition of bringing pine trees into their homes at Christmastime.
People come to the U.S.A. generally and Chicago specifically from all over the world and adopt a tradition that came to the U.S.A. directly from Germany or indirectly by way of England (where the Hanoverian kings brought the tradition). In many cases, when Chicago area residents decorate Christmas trees to represent their ethnic groups or homelands for Christmas Around the World, the decorations we see on representative trees would be displayed in other ways in the countries concerned.
Small dolls in costumes on the Estonian Christmas tree will represent the Song and Dance Festival, which is geld once every five years in the Baltic country’s capital of Tallinn. It is the largest event that features Estonian national costumes.
The garlands on the Estonian tree are belts that are part of the national costume. Each region of the country has a specific belt. Snowflakes and icicles represent the cold climate of Northern Europe. Woven snowflakes and handmade mittens represent customary hand arts of Estonian women.
The Puerto Rican tree is decorated with a number of musical instruments including guitars, maracas, tambourines, and gϋiros (a wooden fish-shaped percussion instrument) will symbolize the Parrandas. These are musicians who go door-to-door during the six weeks of Christmas and Advent celebrations.
In addition, Poinsettias, which are indigenous to Central America, are featured across the branches. Three golden wise men statues are situated beneath the tree, paying homage to the Three Kings—Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar—who are separately celebrated in Puerto Rico on Epiphany (January 6), the last day of Christmas.
Holidays of Light, now in its twenty-first year, is a multicultural display of holidays that celebrate light or enlightenment. Each year, the display highlights the traditions of the Chinese New Year; Diwali, a Hindu and Sikh festival; Kwanzaa, celebrated by some Black African-American families; Ramadan, celebrated by Muslims; Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday; Visakha Puja Day, a Buddhist holiday; and St. Lucia Day, the Swedish version of the saint’s feast day (December 13th) in Advent.
This year, the theme of Christmas Around the World is the temporary exhibit Robot Revolution. The Grand Rotunda will have Robot Revolution banners this year the way last year Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives banners adorned the Grand Rotunda. Some of the ornaments on the Grand Tree will also be robot-themed.
Christmas Around the World, Holidays of Light, and Robot Revolution will run through Sunday, January 3, 2016. Throughout the festival, Christmas music will be played over the loudspeakers and artificial snow will fall once every half-hour.
Ethnic and General Holiday Music and Dance Performance Schedule
Saturday, November 21, 2015
10:30 a.m. Finnladies of Chicagoland (Finland)
11:45 p.m. Chinese American Civic Council
2:00 p.m. McNulty Irish Dancers
3:15 p.m. Colombian Cultural Center
4:30 p.m. Ballet Folklorico International Tuwamari (Ecuador)
Sunday, November 22, 2015
10:30 a.m. Ensemble Horo (Bulgaria)
11:45 a.m. Alma Ecuatoriana (Ecuador)
2:00 p.m. St. George Serbian Orthodox Church
3:15 p.m. Tierra Colombiana & Viva Panama
4:30 p.m. Mali Kiscieliscany of Polish Highlander
Friday, November 27, 2015
11:45 p.m. Whispers Center for Artistic Expression (Poland)
2:00 p.m. Choomsarang Korean Dance Group
3:15 p.m. Tsukasa Taiko (Japan)
4:30 p.m. Punch & Judaism (Hanukkah)
Saturday, November 28, 2015
10:30 a.m. Moravian Cultural Society (Czech Republic)
11:45 a.m. PACF (Philippines)
2:00 p.m. Boliviamanta: After School Matters (Bolivia)
3:15 p.m. Mangalorean Konkan Christian Association (India)
4:30 p.m. Belizean Cultural Bearers, Inc.
Sunday, November 29, 2015
10:30 a.m. Bonnie Lindholm School of Dance (general holiday)
11:45 a.m. Nordikids (Sweden)
2:00 p.m. Chicago Cuatro Orchestra (Puerto Rico)
3:15 p.m. Flamenco Chicago (Spain)
4:30 p.m. Jasmin Jahal Dance Company (Middle East)
Saturday, December 5, 2015
11:45 a.m. FADA (Philippines)
2:00 p.m. Norwegian National League of Chicago
3:15 p.m. Welsh Cambrian Benevolent Society
4:30 p.m. Kupa’a’s School of the Pacific Arts (South Pacific)
Sunday, December 6, 2015
10:30 a.m. Filipino American History Society (Philippines)
11:45 a.m. Cherubic Voices Choir; Iskra School of Ukrainian Dance
2:00 p.m. Knights of Lithuania Dancers and Suktinis
3:15 p.m. Flores de Mexico of Linda’s Dance Studio
4:30 p.m. Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago
Saturday, December, 12, 2015
10:30 a.m. Oak Forest Park District (general holiday)
11:45 a.m. Alioni Georgian Choir
2:00 p.m. Thistle & Heather Highland Dancers (Scotland)
3:15 p.m. Acapellago (general holiday)
4:30 p.m. Donya Dance Ensemble (Middle East)
Sunday, December 13, 2015
10:30 a.m. Royal Scottish Country Dance Society
11:45 a.m. India Catholic Association
2:00 p.m. Polish Scouting Organization of Illinois
3:15 p.m. Austrian Mixed Chorus
4:30 p.m. Orpheus Hellenic Folklore Society (Greece)
Saturday, December 19, 2015
10:30 a.m. Croatian Folk Ensemble
11:45 a.m. Slovenian Catholic Center
2:00 p.m. Springbrook Chorus and Brass (general holiday)
3:15 p.m. Orquesta de Cuatro Fenix (Puerto Rico)
4:30 p.m. Borozda Folk Dance & Hungarian Scouts
Sunday, December 20, 2015
10:30 a.m. Joint Civic Committee Italian Americans
11:45 a.m. Campanella Children’s Choir (Russia)
2:00 p.m. Renacer Boliviano Troupe (Bolivia)
3:15 p.m. Saint Mark’s Coptic Church (Egypt)
4:30 p.m. Holy Nativity (Romania)
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
2:00 p.m. Holy Cross IHM Children’s Choir and Marimba Ensemble (Mexico)
Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light are included in Museum Entry, as are all performances. An additional ticket is required for Robot Revolution.
Regular Museum hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., but extended hours (until 5:30 p.m.) are offered on the following days: November 21-22; November 27 – 29; December 5, 6, 12, 13; December 19 – 23, December 26 – 30; and January 2-3. M.S.I. is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light are both presented by Pepsi. Robot Revolution is sponsored by Google.org with additional major support from The Boeing Company.
Erin Okamoto Protsman wrote two books on the subject of Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light: Season of Celebrating Cookbook, published by M.S.I. in 1997 and Traditions: A Guidebook from the Museum of Science and Industry’s “Christmas Around the World” and “Holidays of Light” Festivals, published by Favorite Recipes Press in 1999. Herman Kogan recounted the story of how and why Major Lenox Lohr (1891-1968), President of M.S.I. (1940-1968), started Christmas Around the World in A Continuing Marvel: the Story of the Museum of Science and Industry, published by Doubleday in 1973, as did Jay Pridmore in Inventive Genius: The History of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, published by Museum Books in 1996.
The address of the Museum of Science and Industry is 5700 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60637. One can buy tickets online by clicking here.