The Museum of Science and Industry’s “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light” exhibit officially kicks off Nov. 18 featuring a tree lighting and all-day festival.
On Saturday, before the official opening, volunteers prepped the Christmas trees set to be featured in the annual celebration. It’s the annual pre-tradition before the tradition, if you will.
Families and organizations from all over the Chicago area came to the museum bright and early to decorate their country’s Christmas tree. This year, the trees represented a total of 57 countries, including Austria, Puerto Rico, Kenya, Switzerland, and France, to name a few.
For one family, it’s been an annual holiday tradition for decades.
“This is a Romanian Christmas tree,” says Adelina Balog. “We started the tradition in the 70s, so we have a long history of decorating the Christmas tree here every year. Romania is an Orthodox country, and so for us it’s really about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. That is why at the top of the tree we have the Bethlehem star star. It’s what guides us not only during Christmas but our entire life.”
For Balog, the tree’s decorations are carefully chosen to represent the country’s traditions.
“The tree is not a specific Romania tree. You won't find dolls dressed in Romanian outfits if you come into someone’s home. But we … are so proud of our heritage, and wanted to display. Traditionally, on Romanian Christmas trees you do find nuts and apples, which we do have here. We also have a lot of the Romanian flag’s colors, red, yellow and blue. And ornaments are those colors as well to show our patriotism. Something new we have this year is pictures of Romania embroidered on the ornaments.”
The family traditions don’t stop there. Another family just a few pines over has been coming for the last 25 years.
“We’ve been coming to decorate the Czech Republic tree for many years,” says Aaron Mensik. “Our tree includes glass ornaments that are individually handmade and painted. We have other traditional decorations, but this is something you’d commonly find on a [Czech] tree.”
This year, Mensik was joined by his mother, Jean, and daughter, Josephine.
“Generally we have an American Christmas but incorporate Czech customs like performing in ‘Christmas Around the World’ here, attending a Czech church for Christmas Mass and St. Nicholas Day, also known as Mikuláš. It’s when St. Nicholas comes on the 6th of December, it’s a big celebration where he brings gifts to kids who have put out shoes or stockings out the night before.”
That day is a memorable one for the family.
“I’ve always loved it,” Josephine Mensik says. “When we were younger we used to talk about putting out bigger shoes for more goodies. It’s like a mini Christmas before Christmas!”
“Even at 17 and 19 she and her brother love it,” her grandmother Jean added.
Their family will be among those singing in the MSI’s “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light” exhibit opening on Saturday, November 18, where they’ll be singing traditional Czech Christmas carols.
That day will include a formal tree lighting “flip the switch” ceremony at 11 a.m. with Santa Larry, the first Black Santa hired to spread holiday cheer at the Mall of America. There will also be a meet-and-greet with a Chicago Cubs player, activities from Sloomoo Institute, story time with Chicago Public Libraries and live performances from local cultural institutions represented throughout the exhibit.
The exhibit runs through Jan. 7, 2024. For more information, visit msichicago.org.
Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3
Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.