Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Celebrating ‘Silent Lights’

As World War II engulfed Europe in 1942, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry set up a United Nations Day salute in honor of the Allied Forces.

Twelve tall trees, adorned with the trinkets and ornaments of each Allied country, stood in the museum’s hallways. Chicago immigrants volunteered their time to decorate the trees in the spirit of their homelands, which were then embroiled in conflict.

Over the past 62 years, the Christmas Around the World exhibit expanded from a small tribute to a vast parade of 51 trees interwoven with twinkling displays representing a variety of cultural and religious celebrations.

A decade ago, the museum began its Holidays of Light exhibit, commemorating religious and cultural festivities around the world that celebrate light and enlightenment, such as Hanukkah, Chinese New Year, Diwali and Kwanzaa.

This year the museum will present the displays together. The Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light exhibit opened Nov. 19 and runs till Jan. 9.

This year’s joint theme, “Tinseltown Holidays,” correlates with the museum’s other major exhibit, “Action! An Adventure in Moviemaking.” Fittingly, the exhibit is “flashy, silver and gold,” said John Beckman, manager of temporary exhibitions.

“We try to make this as big an experience as possible,” Beckman said.

More than 175,000 people attended the Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light displays in 2003.

Traditionally each of the trees gracing the museum’s hallways is decorated by volunteers to represent the holiday traditions of a specific country. Romania’s tree features hand-crafted dolls signifying the purity of children while boat ornaments dot the branches of Belize’s tree.

Museum-goers will also be treated to a variety of musical concerts, dance performances and book readings.

When Elmhurst,Ill. resident Amy Engstrom-Clugg, 38, visited to the museum in 2002 she wanted to take a family photo under the Russian tree. With her two children in tow, the family walked in circles until they realized no such tree existed at the museum.

“I made a promise (to my children) to preserve their traditions,” said Engstrom-Clugg, whose children are from Russia.

Her family began calling other families who had adopted children from Russia, as well as Russian newspapers and stores in an attempt to display a Russian tree the following year. Over the year, she and her children spent time decorating and buying ornaments.

“There was an outpouring of support,” she remembers. This will be the second year that a Russian tree has been featured at the Museum.

“I have the knowledge that we created a beautiful lasting tribute to Chicago and our children,” Engstrom-Clugg said. “You really feel like part of Chicago’s melting pot.”

The gamut of countries represented — which includes the Ukraine, the Netherlands, Egypt — is still growing.

“This is an interesting exhibit because it happens every year,” Beckman said. “Each year we face individual challenges.”

This year’s holiday exhibit has spread throughout the museum with the hope that museum goers will also attend the hands-on ‘Action!’ exhibit, which has been running since May 28 of this year and focuses on the behind-the-scenes art of movies.

“We would love to make (the “Christmas Around the World” exhibit) a part of everyone’s holidays,” Beckman said.

The exhibit is free with museum entry cost. To see the “Action! Adventures in Movie Making” event there is an additional fee. T

Reach Deepa Seetharaman at [email protected].

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Celebrating ‘Silent Lights’