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Festival of Lights celebrates Christmas culture around the world

Now through January 5

by Carrie Steinweg

LANSING, Ill. (December 2, 2019) – Following a performance of holiday music by the TF South High School Choir, the Lansing Historical Society opened their annual Festival of Lights exhibit on November 26 in the Lansing Historical Museum, which is housed in the lower level of he Lansing Public Library. For about six weeks each year, the regular exhibits are packed away, covered up, or incorporated into this holiday wonderland that includes more than 35 trees or scenes dedicated to different cultural celebrations and local groups.

Much of the Festival of Lights exhibit is made up of full-sized trees that are decorated with authentic ornaments to represent different countries. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

Much of the exhibit is made up of full-sized trees that are decorated with authentic ornaments to represent different countries. Many are accompanied by informational boards that give background on how Christmas is celebrated in that country. Trees are decorated by historical society members and other volunteers. Some decorate trees that have a special connection to their heritage. Paul Schultz, who is of German descent, decorates the German tree with his wife, Carol. Joyce Mulder celebrates her heritage by decorating the Dutch tree. Karen Kleine decorates a tree to represent her mother’s Puerto Rican roots. Village Clerk Vivian Payne, who recently visited family in Croatia, puts authentic touches on the Croatian tree.

Museum Curator Barb Dust also collects items in her travels to add to the exhibit. When she and her husband Rich visited Iceland, they put together a small display to represent Icelandic tradition where Christmas trees are scarce and driftwood is often decorated to deck the halls. This year the couple traveled to the Galapagos Islands, so they created a small Ecuador tree in the museum.

Museum Curator Barbara Dust and her husband Rich traveled to the Galapagos Islands this year, which sparked ideas for an addition to the Christmas displays. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

Crowd reactions

Mixed in with the trees are displays that tell of customs around the world. “The whole thing takes a long time to put up, and it’s wonderful that the volunteers can get involved and do what they enjoy every year,” said Lansing resident Elayne Young as she walked through the museum. She said her favorite tree was the German tree. “Do you know it took 5 hours to put up?” she asked. “It was very meticulously done.”

Caitlin and Jerome Kotel of Lansing first saw the tree exhibit because their nephew was playing guitar as part of the TF South Chorus one opening night. They returned again this year to see what was new. “I like to read about the traditions,” said Caitlin. “I enjoyed reading about the tradition in Iceland where everyone gets books and sits in bed eating chocolate and reading.”

“I really like the Greek and Irish trees,” said Jerome. “My mom has always decorated close to what the Greek tree looks like, even though we’re not Greek at all. I like all the gold decorations.”

Tammy Bartosz of Lansing, previously of Berwyn, was seeing the exhibit for the first time. “This is really amazing,” she said. “The choir was fantastic, and the info given in the exhibit is interesting and informative.”

The wooden shoes ornaments on the Dutch Christmas tree brought back memories for Tammy Bartosz. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)
Her favorite tree was the Dutch tree because she spotted the wooden shoe ornaments, which reminded her of the real wooden shoes her parents bought her when they all visited Holland, Michigan. “It brings back memories,” she said. “And I think that’s what Christmas is all about.”

Darvionne Givhan of Glenwood said that her fondness of Christmas trees drew her to the library to see the exhibit for the first time. “I really like it. I love Christmas trees, and I think they represented everything well,” she said. “I like the blurbs you can read to learn a little more. This clearly took a lot of time, and I appreciate the effort.”

“I love Christmas trees,” said Darvionne Givhan, of Glenwood, who was seeing the Festival of Lights for the first time. “This clearly took a lot of time, and I appreciate the effort.” (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

There seemed to be a lot of stopping and reading as guests made their way through on opening night of the exhibit. Jose Munoz knelt down beside his daughters, Sarah (8) and Christina (6) as they took turns reading paragraphs on a board explaining Christmas traditions in the United Kingdom.

The Munoz family took a close look at the display describing Christmas traditions in the United Kingdom. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

Historical Society member Phyllis Drewno said that she isn’t big on decorating trees ever since she worked at Sears where she had to have 26 trees set up in September to be on display for those who wanted to put them on layaway. Decorating a tree became more of a chore then, but she does enjoy looking at them now and admiring the work that others do. “The volunteers do such a fantastic job with this,” she said. “There are so many authentic ornaments.”

Juanita and Bruce Ross of Lansing were also among the visitors on opening night of the exhibit. “My favorite tree is the German tree,” said Juanita. “I love the tinsel. A Christmas tree just isn’t a Christmas tree until it has tinsel on it. Some disagree, but that’s the way I was raised. I love how the light shines through it.”

Through January 5

The exhibit is free to the public and runs through January 5. The museum has extended holiday hours:

  • Mondays and Tuesdays: 6:00–8:00pm
  • Wednesdays and Thursdays: 3:00–5:00pm
  • Saturdays: 11:00am–1:00pm

To arrange a group tour, contact Barb Dust at 708-474-7497.

The Lansing Public Library is located at 2750 Indiana Avenue in Lansing, Illinois. The museum is located on the lower level.


Carrie Steinweg
Carrie Steinweg
Carrie Steinweg is a freelance writer, photographer, author, and food and travel blogger who has lived in Lansing for 27 years. She most enjoys writing about food, people, history, and baseball. Her favorite Lansing Journal articles that she has written are: "Lan Oak Lanes attracts film crew," "Why Millennials are choosing Lansing," "Curtis Granderson returns home to give back," "The Cubs, the World Series, fandom, and family," and "Lansing's One Trick Pony Brewery: a craft beer oasis."