Monday, December 5, 2016

Yet Another Baltic Christmas - Day 5, a Baltic Christmas at the MSI in Chicago

Today on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we travel from Atlanta (where we saw the 1st ever Lithuanian Christmas tree at the Atlanta International Airport), to Chicago - for the Christmas Around the World Celebration at the Museum of Science and Industry, where all three of the Baltic countries have a Christmas tree!

The tradition began in 1942 with a single tree, newly decorated every day for 12 days to represent the countries fighting alongside America during World War II. The display has since grown to feature more than 50 trees and displays, decorated by volunteers to represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the globe – among those Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Estonia’s tree is decorated with small dolls in national costumes, apples, snowflakes and mittens. The dolls and their costumes are representative of the tradition of national dress, which is best represented at the Song and Dance Festival. Most of the 20,000 singers and 7,000 folk dancers wear their folk costumes at the Festival, which takes place in Tallinn once every five years. The garlands are woven belts that are part of the national costume, and specific to their region in Estonia. The handmade children’s mittens represent the longstanding craft of knitting, while snowflakes and icicles adorn the tree to evoke the cold winters.

The Latvian tree was decorated by the 8th graders at the Chicago Latvian School this year, accompanied by Ēriks Blumbergs (cub scout leader & parent), Inga Lucāne (Latvian tree coordinator) and Aleks Briedis (parent). Originally the tree was decorated by the Chicago Latvian Youth Association, and then for many years the Latvian boy scouts and girl guides completed the task. In recent years the scout leaders still coordinate the effort, but the decorating is a field trip for the Latvian School of Chicago's 8th graders. Traditionally, Latvians use natural materials for ornaments and decorations, and so the Latvian tree is adorned with puzuri, cranberry garlands, pinecones, apples and nuts. Similar to the Estonian belt decorations, the Latvian tree features garlands of prievītes, woven ribbons decorated with traditional designs.

The Lithuanian tree was for some time decorated by the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture. When Juze Dauzvardis (wife of Petras Dauzvardis, then-Consul General of Lithuania in Chicago) was first asked to decorate the MSI tree, she wanted to distinguish it from all the others, and her solution was to use ornaments made of white paper drinking straws instead of the traditional straw. The modern and urban twist on the tradition has survived to this day, and has spread to Christmas trees far and wide. Every year Balzekas Museum hosts a Straw Christmas Ornament Workshop; although this year’s workshop has already taken place, you can find more information on the event on their website.

Three years ago we had the chance to attend the Christmas Around the World annual Holidays of Light gala, and the (much smaller) boys got to explore the rest of the museum after hours. It was a memorable experience, and I'm looking forward to taking them back now that they are a little older, to view the Latvian tree and take another look at the historic Museum of Science and Industry. You can get a look at the 2013 holiday trees and read about the experience here.

250,000 people visit the Museum of Science and Industry Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light exhibit each year. In addition to the Christmas trees, the exhibit features cultural performances, ornament building activities and photos with Santa; Sunday, December 11th the Knights of Lithuania Dancers & Suktinis are performing at 2:45pm. For a calendar of other events please visit the MoSI webpage here, and remember to tag your photos of the Baltic trees with the museum’s #MSIHoliday hashtag so we flood the feed with a Baltic Christmas!

Thank you to Ēriks Blūmbergs and Inga Lucāne for the photographs of the Latvian MSI Christmas tree! Tomorrow on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we have a very special guest, Lithuanian author Daiva Venckus. Please join us for an in-depth look at the pagan traditions that have helped shaped the modern Kaleda into the Christmas celebration it is today! 

1 comment:

  1. The Latvian tree has been part of the exhibit for 60+ years! (New puzuri need to be made every few years, of course...)


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