Lighting Up the World, One Tree At a Time

More stories from Ishtar Yakoo


Ishtar Yakoo

The plaque under the Estonia tree explains the different ornaments.

A brightly lit and extravagant tree stands out, surrounding it are brilliantly decorated trees which represent how Christmas and the other holidays during this festive time of the year, are celebrated around the globe. The mighty tree wears over 30,000 lights which twinkle in different colors, a light sapphire being the dominant. As guests snap photos, they admire, and appreciate the decorations on every branch-tip. Music is played, and well-known, upbeat songs are sung by Chicago locals                                                         .

On Thursday, Nov. 19, The Museum of Science and Industry welcomed guests to their annual “Christmas Around the World” holiday tradition.

Visitors walked through a festively decorated forest, and something new is learned from every tree they are greeted by. Every year, a majority of the ornaments are hand crafted and donated by local families, organizations and school children in the Chicago area.

The ornaments range from shiny ribbons to hand-sewn fortune cookies to woven llamas. Each tree speaks to its culture and is dressed with representations of what people from each respective country practice. Each tree brings with it liveliness and a new piece of information for each visitor to head home with.

Topped with different hats, and even a couple of bejeweled crowns, England’s tree represents royalty this year.

Hanging from India’s ferns are miniature dolls dressed in traditional Indian clothing. Observers learn about the minority of Indian Christians and about a non-Christian holiday celebrated in India, “the festival of lights,” Diwali.

Puerto Ricans enjoy caroling, and as groups wake their neighbors with songs of worship and celebration. Those who have been awoken enlarge the group by tagging along! Another important holiday in Puerto Rico that tree viewers will learn about is Día de los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day), celebrated on the Jan. 6.

In Korea, although the Christian population is growing, Christmas isn’t a major holiday. But children still believe in Santa Haraboji (Father Santa) and Koreans dedicate this time of year to helping the less fortunate and spreading care.

Most prevalent in the Ukraine tree is an Eastern European tale of a poor but hard-working widow with children. The children cared for a tree, excited that they would have one for the upcoming celebration of Christmas. Soon though, when the holiday came closer, they realized they couldn’t afford to decorate the tree and they went to bed devastated.

Early the next morning, the family woke up to find the tree that had been covered in cobwebs transformed to silver and gold when the sun rose and its rays shone down on them. The widow and her children were overjoyed, for they didn’t live another day in poverty. The museum made sure silver spiders and cob-webs sat upon the tree representing Ukraine.

Another tree teaches visitors that the classic, “Silent Night” (Stille Nacht) was originally composed in a chapel in Austria in 1818. Museum guests can read about Dutch children setting out wooden shoes filled with sugar and carrots for Sinterklaas (Santa Clause) to deliver toys to them, if they’ve been good. A majority of the descriptors for each culture emphasized spreading joy and helping those in need.

Although the many traditions displayed at The Museum of Science and Industry’s “Christmas Around the World,” which will be up until Jan. 3, stem from different parts of the globe, Christmas is the heart-filling holiday which shows that even though we are all very different, when we come together, we are still quite the same.