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Holiday ornaments on a tree in the Christmas Around the World exhibit.
Mexico to Russia

Trees and Traditions


“Feliz Navidad”

The majority of Mexico's population is predominantly Catholic. The birth of Jesus Christ is one of Mexico's holiest and celebratory seasons, which includes a midnight mass on Christmas Eve to welcome Jesus' birth on December 25. The Nativity depicts Mary and Joseph seeking an inn for the birth of Christ. The tree topper represents the star of Bethlehem that led the Three Wise Kings to the birthplace. Many of the dolls represent the shepherds who were also present.

Tree decorated by the Chicago Día de los Niños (CDDLN) and mothers from the Chicago Public Schools Parent University.

Native America

The Native American tree pays tribute to many different tribes with handcrafted ornaments, such as birch teepees and canoes, dream catchers, moccasins, dolls, stuffed buffalos and horses, and wooden tomahawks. Many Native American tribes became Christianized when Europeans arrived in America, so some traditions are similar to European-American customs. Several tribes create handmade nativity scenes with ornately crafted cribs to hold the baby Jesus. Instead of camels and donkeys, though, these nativity scenes feature American wolves, foxes, and bears.

Tree decorated by the Skolnick family and friends.


“Vrolijk Kerstmis”

On the evening of December 5, Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) sets sail from Spain. Dutch children set out wooden shoes filled with sugar, carrots, and hay for Sinterklaas' horse. If children are good, their shoes will be filled with sweets in return. Symbolic of the Netherlands, the oldest Dutch wooden shoes, made of alder wood, date back to 1280. Representations of these shoes hang on the tree, along with hand-painted tiles and round ornaments depicting typical Dutch landscapes, rendered in traditional Delft Blue pottery, a custom from the 16th century. The windmills and tulips symbolize the rich landscape of the Netherlands.

Tree decorated by the Sluis and Bos families.


"E ku odun, e ku iye'dun, Emi wa a se pupo."

Adorned with traditional holiday decorations, this tree represents a few of the Nigerian communities in the Chicago area by highlighting many of their different tribal origin groups. You'll see beautiful handmade ornaments featuring Nigerian lace fabric and wax cloth, as well as garlands created from black-eyed peas, colored deep-red and orange to symbolize the colors of jewelry worn at Yoruba, Igbo, and Benin celebrations. Additional decorations highlight the rich family customs shared by all Nigerian people at Christmastime.

Tree decorated by the Akiwowo Family in memory of Dr. Christian Akiwowo.


“God Jul”

Several elven characters visit Norwegians during the holiday season. Juleniss, a short elf with red hat and beard, much like Santa, brings gifts for good children. He is a trickster, though, and families must give him Christmas Eve porridge to keep him at bay. Norway’s tree features brightly painted Norwegian Rosemaled painted ornaments, traditional folk art, heart baskets, candles, yarn nisse and Norwegian flags.

Tree decorated by the Norwegian National League of Chicago.


“Maligayang Pasko”

All decorations on this tree are from the Philippines, and most have been crafted by hand using pineapple fiber, beautifully colored capiz shells, bamboo, and leaves from tropical trees. The ornamental stars replicate a paról, or a star-shaped lantern made with bamboo and paper. Adorning homes throughout the country, the stars represent the Star of Bethlehem and the victory of light over darkness, much like the Filipinos' hope and goodwill during the holiday season. Christmas in the Philippines is celebrated as early as September and lasts through January. The country has earned the distinction of celebrating the world's longest Christmas season.

Tree decorated by the Fil-Am Halo-Halo, FADA Alumnae, and the Quinol, Greene, Romano, Halaska, Dayco and Mirza families.


“Wesolych Świąt”

Known as Wigilia (vigil) in Poland, December 24 is a time for sharing the spirit of Christmas—including livestock and pets since animals witnessed the birth of Jesus Christ. Families share oplatek (Christmas wafers) and watch for the first star to appear. Dinner is a meatless feast with 12 courses (for the apostles) or seven dishes (for the sacraments). An extra place is set for the unexpected guest. Jesus' manger is represented by hay under the table or tablecloth. This tree's handmade ornaments from different regions of Poland were crafted by past and present scouting members from 4 to 89 years old.

Tree decorated by the Polish Scouting Organization with financial support from the Legion of Young Polish Women.

Puerto Rico

“Feliz Navidad”

In Puerto Rico, the holiday season begins in November and ends in late January. Puerto Ricans traditionally do parandas (similar to caroling) during Christmas. Singing also includes dancing and music like the instruments featured on the tree. The paranda begins in the late evening. The first group of paranderos awakens the first family home-enjoying food, music, laughter, and drinks. Then, they are off to the next home to awaken them with an asalto. As the night progresses, the group grows and ends at daybreak. The last house is usually pre-determined, ready to serve an asopao (chicken stew) for everyone to enjoy.

Tree decorated by the Bonilla Foundation, in memory of Leonides Bonilla.


“Crăciun Fericit și La Mulți Ani”

Romania's tree has walnuts, apples, and other ornaments in red, yellow, and blue national colors—dolls dressed in traditional clothing costumes from all regions of Romania. The tree topper represents the Holy Night Star. Families decorate the tree on Christmas Eve while enjoying traditional food and singing carols. Carolers visit during the next three days. In every home, you'll find traditional sweet bread (cozonac), stuffed cabbage (sarmale), pork, and sausages (carnati). This 2,000-year-old celebration honors the nativity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and his Mother. The Protector of Romania is St. Andrew, the first-called apostle, who once lived in the southeast of Romania.

Tree decorated by the Holy Nativity Romanian Orthodox Church.


“Vesyoloye Rozhdyestvo”

The Russian tree is decorated by American families that include adopted children from Russian orphanages. The tree shares numerous images of Russian culture, traditions, and architecture, as well as winter holidays including Orthodox Christmas and New Year's Day. Decorations vary from traditional black lacquer ornaments, Grandfather Frost on his troika pulled by three horses, and the beautiful Snow maiden. There are also musicians (such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky), ballet, the elegant Borzoi, matryoshka nesting dolls, and other ornaments gifted by Russian schoolchildren.

This tree was decorated by loving American families with children adopted from Russia.