‘Holiday Together’: Christmas Around The World Returns For Its 77th Year At Museum Of Science And Industry

Shannon Blum
November 15, 2019 - 8:21 am

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) – Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light return to the Museum of Science and Industry for another holiday season.

Ride the escalator up to the main floor and immerse yourself in Christmas Around the World, which allows guests to “travel” to different countries and become cultured in different holiday celebrations without ever leaving Chicago. Corridors of the museum are lined with trees, each one specially decorated with ornaments representative of the country it is displaying.

But, what exactly is Christmas Around the World? How did it start?

“Christmas Around the World is a special tradition here in Chicago and also at the museum. It actually started in 1942 as a salute to our allies in the war. At that time, it was one lonely tree in the rotunda here that was decorated every day by new groups from around the city, from our allies, and it has grown over the course of 77 years into this beloved tradition that now features over 60 large trees and displays celebrating how people celebrate the holidays around the globe,” said Jeff Buonomo, manager of Special Exhibitions and Business Partnerships.

Today, all the trees are still decorated as they were 77 years ago by volunteers from around the Chicagoland area.

One of the nearly 60 trees and displays at MSI's Christmas Around the World
Photo courtesy of the Museum of Science and Industry

And the magic that is seen in these trees and displays don’t just happen overnight. According to the museum, the concept planning begins in July. Each year, the museum starts by selecting a theme. Once the theme is decided, the staff reaches out to volunteer groups to start scheduling the trees. And then, "the groups come two weeks in October, spend hours here in the rotunda decorating them with love and their ornaments and making them look authentic,” he said. “It's just a great Chicago tradition that really brings Chicago together.”

Speaking of tradition, attending Christmas Around the World seems to be one that is passed down from generation to generation. Why do people continue to return?

“I think it's one of those great traditions where they pass it down throughout their families, so grandparents come with their grandkids and their kids, and then they pass it down to their kids and grandkids, and so on. So I think it's just a festive way for families to celebrate the holidays and also kind of see trees that represent their culture, the makeup of their families,” Buonomo said.

But it is not all about just celebrating your heritage, it is also a way to learn about how others celebrate. Guests can learn why silver spiders are good luck, find out which country has the distinction of celebrating the world’s longest Christmas season, view intricate origami ornaments, and so much more.

So what is the theme for 2019?

“This year we kind of have a slogan as our theme, called 'Holiday Together', so really showing how people holiday together all around the globe here under one roof at the museum,” Buonomo said.

Therefore, it is not just Christmas that is highlighted and celebrated at the museum, it is about other holidays, too.

One of the Holidays of Light displays at the Museum of Science and Industry
Photo courtesy of the Museum of Science and Industry

“We started Holidays of Light in 1994 as a way to be more inclusive of other celebrations that may not necessarily want a tree to represent how they celebrate,” Buonomo said. “So we have eight Holidays of Light that are represented. Some of the more well-known ones are Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, but we also have Diwali, ​Eid-al-Fitr, Winter Solstice, Lunar New Year and there are display cases that represent how those are celebrated.”

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light will be open through Jan. 5. The exhibit is included with museum admission. There will be special events, cultural performances, and more through the exhibits run. All of this information and more can be found at msichicago.org.