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Festival of Lights tradition returns to Lansing Historical Society

Grand opening on Monday, November 29

By Carrie Steinweg

LANSING, Ill. (November 27, 2021) – After a hiatus last year due to the pandemic, volunteers have once again decked the halls of the Lansing Historical Museum, located in the lower level of the Lansing Public Library, for the Festival of Lights exhibit. The annual display features a number of decorated trees, most of them representing different countries or cultures, as well as other holiday displays.

Continuing traditions

Each year a team of volunteers led by curator Barb Dust pulls trees and decorations out of storage and begins the task of transforming the museum into a wonderland of twinkling lights and ornaments.

Regular visitors to the annual display can always expect to see something new or displays arranged in a new way. This year there are 37 trees and 44 displays total.

“Highlights include mannequins dressed in ethnic costumes, a growing collection of Nativity scenes from different countries, and a history of the Lansing Santa House,” said Dust. “We are including a display of many beautiful artifacts from Japan next to the Japanese tree. They were donated by Jackie Protsman who received them from her daughter-in-law, whose parents are from Japan.

Traditions preserved through Festival of Lights


About a decade ago, it was unsure if one tradition would continue. The couple who usually provided ornaments for the Dutch tree had traveled to their summer home in Florida before the plans for that year’s exhibit were complete. Lansing Historical Society member Joyce Mulder couldn’t imagine an exhibit without a Dutch tree since the Germans and Dutch were the first settlers in the Village of Lansing, she said.

Mulder put together the tree with a few Dutch ornaments she had and a little creativity. She bought bulbs in royal blue, white, and silver to match the color scheme of the Delft Blue pottery and porcelain that was produced in the Netherlands starting in the 1600s. She got Dutch windmill cookies that she mod-podged and turned into ornaments. “I scrounged up a few more ornaments here and there from a few places and people,” she said. “Then I remembered that I had my grandfather’s Bible that was in Dutch. I put that under the tree opened to Luke 2, the Christmas story.”

She mentioned the legend of Sinterklaas, who was said to have lived in Spain most of the year and would come to the Netherlands on December 6 riding a white horse and wearing a red bishop’s cape. When she found an ornament depicting Sinterklass in his red cape, she bought it to add to the tree. Also, below the tree are authentic wooden shoes like ones that children would leave out for Sinterklass to fill with goodies.

“We hear about putting out cookies and milk for Santa, but their custom is that they would put out wooden shoes under the tree that and in them they would leave treats for the white horse,” Mulder explained. She places straw in one and a toy carrot in the other.


Kalpana Sharma returned this year to decorate the tree featuring decorations and customs of India. Sharma is originally from the state of Gujarat in western India and provided many of her own ornaments to decorate the tree. It includes dolls that are dressed to show what is worn in different regions of the country, and items are displayed to show foods that you would find in a traditional Indian grocery store. “Those in India are much into tea, so there is a teacup on the tree. It was crocheted by my daughter,” she said. “There is a great king right in the middle going on an elegant ride.”

An ornament on the Indian tree. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Sharma was happy to be part of the exhibit. “I think it’s fun that we can come together as a community,” she said. “It’s a festive season, and for everyone come together to celebrate, it makes you feel that you belong here.”


festival of lights
The Grant family poses by their Scottish tree. (Photo provided)

Decorating the Scottish tree is a new tradition for the Grant family of Lansing. Ainsley and Claire Grant first made ornaments for the Scottish tree in 2016, but in 2019 they took on the task of decorating the whole tree and did so again this year.

The girls’ parents, Michael and Heather Grant, had a Scottish-themed wedding to celebrate Michael’s heritage. His family has been in the United States for four generations, but he’s made it a point to teach his kids about where his ancestors came from. “My husband has always been into his roots. We were married in a Scottish ceremony with him in a kilt and full Highland regalia and bagpipes,” said Heather. “So it just made sense to get involved with the historical society. The Festival of Trees is so much fun, and they do a great job with it.”

Since the girls like to craft, they’ve enjoyed making ornaments to add to the tree. This year they made hand-stitched Scottie (Scottish Terrier) dogs and Highland cattle to place on the tree.

Many hands

An undertaking so large takes a lot of people to pull off. This year, eager volunteers were happy to return to decorate for the upcoming Festival of Lights season.

“The volunteers were extremely excited to be doing the festival again,” Dust said. “Every single person who had decorated the tree of their own heritage came back to decorate again. Other Lansing residents volunteered to decorate or help out in any way we needed.”

TF South students helped by assembling and placing trees in the appropriate spots so that they were ready to decorate. Students from the TF South Cultural Exploration Club, led by Hannah Berridge, and the TF South History Club, led by Chris Roberts, completed the project in one afternoon.

Something new

“Our newest acquisition is the dollhouse made by our former curator Betty Humphrey who passed away earlier this year. Betty lovingly made the dollhouse and painstakingly collected and created the furnishings,” said Dust. “Everything in the house reflects Betty’s life and the things she loved.” The house was donated to the Lansing Historical Society by Betty’s family this summer.

Humphrey had studied fashion design at the Art Institute of Chicago. She was employed in the fashion industry as a pattern designer. Many of the items in the dollhouse were hand sewn or handmade.

“The framed, miniature photos are of her family. The slate stone patio echoes the one at her home in Lansing. It came with its own Christmas decorations,” Dust said.

Updates were also made to the Children’s Tree. “This year Lansing Historical Society member Jan Bockel donated her collection of ornaments that reflected the toys of her kids’ childhood,” said Dust. “There are hundreds of ornaments depicting childhood favorites through the years.”

Grand opening and holiday hours

The Grand Opening of the exhibit will be Monday, November 29, at 6 p.m., following a performance of holiday music on the upstairs stage by the TF South and TF North choirs. The museum will have expanded hours during the holiday season to allow more people to view the exhibit. Hours will be Monday through Thursday from 6–8 p.m. and Saturdays from noon–3 p.m. The museum will also be open from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Friday, December 3, before the library’s concert that evening. Tours can be arranged by calling 708-474-7497.

The Lansing Historical Society is located in the lower level of the Lansing Public Library, located at 2750 Indiana Avenue in Lansing.

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."


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