Aglittering star sat atop the grand tree in the middle of the Museum of Science and Industry on Monday, but the focus was on eight larger, metal stars sitting below the decorated giant, waiting to be shipped across Chicago on Tuesday.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of its “Christmas Around the World” exhibit, the museum has created the star statues to serve as symbols of the diverse holiday traditions celebrated by different Chicagoans each year.
The eight stars are painted in the flag colors of select countries and feature corresponding holiday greetings written in each country’s native language and in English. Each statue will be placed outside a different Chicago cultural institution beginning Tuesday, but none will stand near its own cultural center. Instead, each star will be hosted by an institution dedicated to a different culture.
“The whole point was to provide a sense of surprise and delight for people seeing another culture represented at these institutions,” said Amy Patti, public relations director for the Museum of Science and Industry.
MSI worked with the Chicago Cultural Alliance to identify eight cultural centers or museums across the city that will display the stars outside of their buildings until January. The goal is to encourage people in the surrounding communities to appreciate the holiday traditions of a culture other than their own.
Jacqueline WayneGuite, exhibit manager at the National Hellenic Museum, said the Puerto Rican star will be set up outside the museum building in Greektown. In exchange, the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture will be hosting the Greek star in Humboldt Park.
“It’s a nice trade because their audience will be exposed to the historic Greek community in Chicago, and we can make connections with our neighbors and other institutions,” WayneGuite said.
“Christmas Around the World” began in 1942 with the display of a tree honoring the ethnic communities in Chicago whose native countries were allied with the United States during World War II. The original tree was decorated each night by a different group with its own handmade ornaments, and the ritual turned into a tradition in which the groups would each decorate an individual tree to represent their homelands every year.
The “Holidays of Light” extension was added in 1994 to feature artifacts and information about different holidays like Ramadan, Hanukkah and the Chinese New Year in glass cases around the trees.
This year’s exhibit counts 54 distinctly decorated trees and eight holiday cases. The eight star statues placed across Chicago will carry the multicultural spirit beyond the museum walls.
“We’ve been involved in the tree exhibit for over 15 years, and this seemed like a cool way to extend that cultural sharing,” said Kathy O’Neill, a spokeswoman at the Irish American Heritage Center, which will host the Polish star. “We wanted to say ‘anybody can come here,’ and this is a great city to express that.”
Jeff Buonomo, manager of special exhibitions at MSI, said he hopes the institutions sharing these stars become connected like sister cities, and he will be gauging people’s reactions in the communities and on social media to help decide whether the stars should become part of MSI’s annual holiday tradition.
“We’re a science museum, and this is an experiment,” he said.
Other museums hosting stars:
• DuSable Museum of African American History: Ukrainian star
• DANK Haus: Chinese star
• Chinese American Museum: German star
• Polish Museum of America: Irish star
• Ukrainian National Museum: Nigerian star.