Want to give your children a multicultural holiday experience this year, but dread the headache of air travel? These three long-standing Chicago ethnic festivals and traditions will open up the world to youngsters without stepping foot inside O’Hare.
Around the world
For 76 years, generations of Chicago families have toured the globe at the Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World. Through its display of more than 50 Christmas trees-each decorated by a different ethnic community-you’ll learn that Armenia celebrates Christmas on Jan. 6, in Kenya ornaments adorn mango trees, on the South Pacific Islands Santa Claus arrives in a magical canoe and other holiday customs worldwide. “So many families have such diverse backgrounds, it’s great for the kids to look at a tree and relate,” says Jeffrey Buonomo, the event’s coordinator.
Festivities kick off Nov. 20 with the lighting of MSI’s 45-foot Christmas tree, decorated with White House ornaments this year to correspond with the special exhibit, The White House: A Look Inside, which runs until Feb. 13. The exhibit features a 60-by-13 foot, large-scale replica of the nation’s first home. On weekends catch performances by ethnic dancers and singers representing the nations on display. Other holiday events include a puppet show, Punch and Judaism, which discusses Hanukkah and performances that highlight Kwanzaa and the Chinese New Year. Download the museum’s Trees& Traditions podcast at www.msichicago.org, where you can also find an event schedule.
Another reason to brave the cold: The Lucia Celebration on Dec. 13 in Andersonville. For more than three decades, the Swedish American Museum there has illuminated the darkest night of the year with a light procession that traditionally kicks off the beginning of the Christmas season in Sweden. Lucia, a Sicilian saint revered in both Italy and Sweden, is said to have been burned to death for going against her church in her work with the poor.
The 15-minute outdoor procession, which begins at 4:45 p.m., includes a train of young women wearing white robes and glitter sashes, and starts at the Swedish American Museum at 5211 N. Clark St. It makes its way through the Swedish neighborhood and returns to the museum for a small program. The Lucia, the lead girl representing the saint, wears a red sash symbolizing blood. The candles in her crown, lit only when inside, symbolize not only Lucia’s death, but the hope she brought.
For a more traditional, but non-religious celebration, the procession heads to Ebenezer Lutheran Church at 1650 W. Foster Ave. at 7 p.m. The lights are turned off and the Lucia train fills the space with the glow of their candles and a chorus of traditional Swedish Christmas hymns. Families sing along in both English and Swedish. The church program, particularly popular with elderly participants, includes a special poem read by the Lucia and a history of the Lucia legend.
While the Lucia Celebration is well known in Andersonville, attracting some 400 participants each year for both the outdoor procession and church program, it’s been a great way to reach outside of the Swedish American community, says Karin Moen Abercrombie, executive director of the Swedish American Museum. “A lot of families have come since their children were young and they continue to come every year,” says Abercrombie. “Regardless of age, it’s a wonderful celebration.” For more on the museum’s holiday festivities, including its annual holiday bazaar, the Julmarknad, go to www.samac.org.
In a shopping and eating mood? Head to Daley Plaza, the site of the Christkindlmarket, the largest German holiday market in the United States and a Chicago favorite with more than 1 million visitors. With more than 50 craft and food vendors, 65 percent from Germany, you can find authentic nutcrackers, watch a woodworker whittle an ornament or stay warm sipping traditional hot spiced wine served in a souvenir cup. The market’s grand opening takes place Nov. 27, with sneak peek on Nov. 25 with the official tree lighting ceremony. The Christkindl, a fairy-like being said to bring presents to children on Christmas Eve, will be available for photos those first three days. But it’s not all bratwurst and Bavaria. You can also find folk art from Mexico, nativity sets from the Holy Land and walking toys from Russia.
Since 1993, Jodi and Darryl Baltimore of Glen Ellyn have rented a hotel room and spent one weekend in the city doing all their Christmas shopping. Each year they stop by the Christkindlmarket. “It’s a feast for the senses,” says Jodi Baltimore. “The market is old world charm, the smells are wonderful and we like the German food.” Their daughter Penny, 7, especially loves the candy and nut house, one of the market’s most popular venues given the long lines.
The Children’s Lantern Parade takes place in the early evening on Dec. 4. Children (accompanied by parents) proceed around the Christkindlmarket carrying traditional (but electric) German lanterns available with pre-registration at www.christkindlmarket.com (where you can also find a schedule of events, such as appearances by Santa and Edison the Reindeer and performances by an Alpine brass band). The reward for braving the cold: a holiday goody bag.