The annual holiday exhibit, Touching on Traditions, has returned for its 28th year to the Elgin Public Museum, but its scope, officials say, is timeless.
This year, 18 countries or religious celebrations from around the world are featured in the exhibit, which started in 1985 with a small display of international trees at the Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin.
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Touching on Traditions at the Elgin Public Museum, 225 Grand Blvd. in Lords Park, Elgin.
Ÿ Public hours: Noon-4 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays in December.
Ÿ Cost: $2; $1 for children under 12.
Ÿ Information: (847) 741-6655; www.elginpublicmuseum.org.
The exhibit eventually moved to the Pavilion at Lords Park, and for the last four years has found a home at the museum, where it draws school groups, Scouts and families during its monthlong display.
"We definitely have people who come year after year and have made it part of their holiday tradition," says Sara Russell, education coordinator at the museum. "People tend to gravitate toward their own culture, but while they're here, we hope they learn about other customs as well."
They include Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, India, Germany, Laos, the Netherlands, Chile, Kenya, Thailand, Sweden, England, Pakistan and China, as well as the holidays of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan and Christmas.
The exhibits fill the museum's Discovery Room and include colorfully adorned trees trimmed in lights, as well as rich textiles and authentic artifacts, such as the vibrant baci bowls from Laos.
A nacimiento from Guatemala takes up an entire corner of the exhibit and is representative of manger scenes that can take up an entire room in some native homes.
"Since much of Guatemala has its roots in the Mayan culture, you'll see Mayan fabric on each of the characters," Russell says.
The Dominican Republic is represented by a tree decorated with lights and folk instruments, representing a holiday tradition where people go from house to house singing and playing music, before being invited inside for holiday celebrations.
"In the Dominican Republic, they celebrate for three months long," Russell adds.
Originally, the exhibition included 60 countries, but in recent years museum officials have had to cut it back.
"We've tried to pick countries that are reflective of Elgin or have a really neat story behind them," Russell says. "And we wanted to make sure we hit all the major regions and religious holidays."
A holiday tree adorned with tin instruments and lights represents Mexico's display, set off by an arrangement of red poinsettia plants.
While poinsettias are native to Mexico, the legend behind them also is explained. Visitors learn the story of a young girl who had nothing to give the Christ child but weeds. When she carried them in her hands, they miraculously transformed into red flowers.
The Elgin exhibit is a smaller version of the Christmas Around the World display at the Museum of Science in Industry in Chicago, now in its 72nd year, but it is just as enlightening.
"No matter what culture or country you come from, you always have feasts, presents and people coming together giving presents," said Mike McGrath, museum coordinator. "This kind of exhibit shows the big, global world and how similar we all are."