Why wait? Save time and avoid lines with advance tickets.

Holiday ornaments on a tree in the Christmas Around the World exhibit.
Hungary to Luxembourg

Trees and Traditions

Hungary

“Boldog Karácsonyt”

In Hungary, painted heart-shaped cookies are a traditional Christmas tree staple, along with colored glass ornaments, Hungarian candy, apples, and pears. You can see these represented on this tree in addition to handmade felt ornaments in Hungary’s national colors of red, white and green. Szaloncukor (popular Hungarian sweets) and chocolates are also used as decorations. Beneath the tree, you’ll find Hungarian dolls. The tree is decorated on the evening of December 24, and kids are not allowed in the room where the tree stands until they have heard a ringing bell. Presents are opened on Christmas Eve.

Tree decorated by Ildiko Lee and her helpers.

Iceland

“Gleðileg Jól”

A church and a farmhouse is displayed on the tree’s base to represent replicas of traditional churches and farmhouses from Þingvellir, Iceland, a site of historical, cultural and geological significance. These items were the original tree decorations created by a volunteer with the Icelandic Association of Chicago. The hand-knitted spherical ornaments feature a traditional wool sweater pattern (lopapeysa) and represent the country’s popular weaving customs. In Iceland, legend has it that 13 days before Christmas, 13 elfish pranksters known as Yulemen (each with a different personality and prank) descend upon Icelandic towns. Historically, these mischief-makers would steal and cause trouble, but today they leave small gifts in the shoes of deserving children.

This tree was decorated by the Icelandic Association of Chicago.

India

“Shubh Naya Baras”

This tree features traditional ornaments reflecting Indian culture. India's Christian community celebrates Christmas by attending midnight mass. In the weeks prior to Christmas, groups of people visit the homes of other Christians singing Christmas carols. Carolers are often welcomed in and offered refreshments. Christians decorate their homes with ornate nativity scenes and lights. Many Indians also hang a star on the front of their homes until January 6, the Feast of the Three Kings. On Christmas Day, children are given small presents, and family members exchange Christmas sweets with close friends and each other.

Tree decorated by the India Catholic Association of America.

Ireland

“Nollaig Shona Duit”

Look closely at this tree to see red tools tied in green ribbon and pinecones—a tribute to the thousands of volunteers who have contributed millions of hours to the remodeling of the Irish American Heritage Center. Other ornaments represent important Irish symbols such as mistletoe, holly, thatched cottages, Celtic crosses, angels, Claddagh rings, Irish flags, shamrocks representing the Trinity, teacups, and harps. No Christmas dinner in Ireland would be complete without crackers, brightly colored foil tubes that are popped open just before dinner. They are filled with silly hats and toys, and families wear the hats throughout dinner.

Tree decorated by Irish American Heritage Society.

Italy

“Buon Natale”

In Italian culture, food, family gatherings, and religion are integral to the holiday season. Christmas is celebrated starting in December until January 6 (Epiphany). The tree is adorned with festive holiday decorations, colors representing the Italian flag, symbolic cultural icons, and various religious symbols of Christmas. Little Puppet ornaments depict the children's literary classic "Pinocchio," created by Italian author Carlo Lorenzini. The Vespa "wasp" scooter represents one of Italy's most famous cultural transportation icons. Wine is a cultural staple of meals and gatherings dating back to ancient Rome. Most importantly, some ornaments display lifelong family memories that Nonna (Grandma) handmade.

This tree was decorated by the Romano Family and Friends.

Japan

“Merii Kurisumasu”

Rather than a religious celebration, Christmas in Japan is celebrated as a way to spread happiness. The ornaments on our Japanese tree represent Japanese traditional culture and craftsmanship. Temari (handballs with geometric patterns with colorful threads) are all done by hand. Origami (the art of folding paper) showcases pieces of Japanese culture and history, including Orizuru (paper cranes), Washi-Ningyou (paper dolls in traditional Japanese dress called kimonos), Kusudama (origami unit balls), and Kabuto (Samurai-warrior's helmet).

Tree decorated by JASC's Tampopo-kai, the Japanese Cultural Program for Preschoolers.

Republic of Kenya

“Krismasi Njema”

The ornaments on this tree represent traditional Kenyan toys for boys and girls. These include musical instruments, dolls, cars, cycles, and balls for Kenyan sports—football (called soccer in the United States), rugby, and golf. The clothing of the dolls reflects traditional Kenyan dress, and the handmade vehicles reflect materials from Kenya. Christmastime includes large family gatherings, feasts, and travel to the rural areas or family villages. December is also a popular time for weddings.

Tree decorated by Team Kenya.

Korea

“Sung Tan Chuk Ha,” 즐거운 성탄을 보내세요

Korea’s tree is covered in paper ornaments (종이접기), which represent the country’s most popular crafts. These handcrafted items include Beoseon (Korean traditional socks), Hanbok (Korean traditional clothes) and Korean traditional drums made from recycled materials. In 1945, Christmas became a national holiday in Korea. Christmas is not the major celebration in Korea that it is in the West, but it is a time for sharing and making donations to those less fortunate.

Tree decorated by the HANA Center.

Latvia

“Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus”

Latvian ornaments and decorations are traditionally made from natural and readily available materials. This tree features many puzuri (straw ornaments) that are threaded into geometric shapes. Also, there are prievītes (ribbon woven with ethnic designs), cranberry garlands, pinecones, apples, and nuts. Handmade dolls are dressed in folk costumes. White lights and candles adorn the tree. On Christmas Eve, families gather around the Christmas tree and sing folk carols. Later, Ziemassvētku Vecītis (Old Man Winterfest or Father Christmas), a stern-looking man with a long white beard, may bring gifts for good children or brushwood switches for lazy or unmindful ones.

Tree decorated by the Krišjānis Barons Latvian School of Chicago.

Lebanon

“Milad Majeed” (Arabic), “Joyeux Noël” (French)

Lebanon’s ornaments are doves to symbolize peace, pinecones to symbolize eternity and to represent cedar trees native to Lebanon, and white snowflakes to symbolize serenity. A few weeks before Christmas in Lebanon, people plant beans, peas, wheat and lentil seeds. With the newly sprouted plants, Christians then decorate a manger in nativity scenes. At Christmastime, people visit one another’s homes, where they indulge in sugared almonds with coffee and liquor. The main meal consists of roast beef, chicken, rice, and kibbeh, which is made of crushed wheat mixed with meat, onions, salt, and pepper.

Tree decorated by Nelly Nagib and family.

Lithuania

“Linksmu Kaledu”

Lithuania is an agricultural country, and original Christmas decorations were created with what was found in the farming fields. To symbolize the wheat and rye straw that were used for these decorations, white drinking straws are woven into intricate patterns. The sturdier material provides more design opportunities and gives a snowflake-like look to the tree. Before Christmas Eve, Lithuanian homes are cleaned from top to bottom, including fresh bed linens and baths for everyone. Kúcios (the Christmas Eve feast) includes a generous nine to 12 meatless courses. Straw is placed beneath the tablecloth to symbolize the manger where Christ was born.

Tree decorated by family and friends of Bernice Kasarski, Lucille VeSota, and Wanda Radavich.

Luxembourg

“Scheí Chreschtdeeg”

Apples and pinecones are traditional Christmas decorations in Luxembourg while red, white, and blue are the colors of the nation's flag. There is no Santa Claus in Luxembourg at Christmastime. However, St. Nicolas Day is celebrated on December 6. In the week before this date, children put their slippers in front of their bedroom doors, expecting them to be filled with a small gift by St. Nicolas during the night. On the eve of December 6, children place a plate on the kitchen or dining room table, which St. Nicolas fills with sweets and gifts overnight. St. Nicolas also pays visits to children in schools.

Tree decorated by the Luxembourg Brotherhood of America.