By JO ERBSKORN
I am writing this column about the Christmas exhibits at Meijer Gardens. The main reason we visited Meijer Gardens was to see a Christmas tree display that my friend was told about that was supposed to be jaw-dropping. It definitely was that.
We walked in the front door and the very first thing, front and center, was an American Christmas tree complete with paper chains and small knee-hugging sprites, better known as elves. I have a collection of these so it made me happy to see all of them on a tree along with many other things common to the American celebration. The tree was the first in a display of over 40 full-sized trees decorated to each represent a country and their celebration of the holiday.
There was also a Victorian Christmas tree that was beautifully decorated with ornaments from that era. I never realized the ornaments were that old when I saw them my whole childhood hanging first on my great-grandmother’s tree and then on my grandmother Katherine’s tree. These ornaments weren’t important to me because of monetary value, it was completely a sentimental thing and it was so strange to see them in this setting and under glass due to their high value. I always associated them with people I loved.
Before I go on I want to share a little bit about those ornaments hanging on my grandmother’s tree. It is quite a hodgepodge, which is what makes a tree fun. There are a couple ornaments that always warmed my heart to see. One is a small wax gingerbread person that came sometime in the seventies. This ornament is nothing extraordinary, except that every toddler in our family tried to bite it thinking it was real, so there are teeth marks all over it from many people who are now adults. The other ornament that always makes me smile is a very small glass Santa. He is about an inch tall. He sports a little something extra on top of his Santa hat and it’s not a fuzzy ball, it’s a screw-in top for a light bulb. This is because that’s what he is—a very old light bulb my great grandmother kept from a string. The screw-in part is a bread tie twisted on for a hook. I think the bread tie makes me smile as much as the little Santa.
At Meijer Gardens, there are so many awesome trees and nativity scenes from different countries that it is staggering. What fun it is to read about the traditions in each country uses to decorate. Every country uses what is most prevalent in that country. There were a few countries represented by ornaments made from straw. Others had exquisite fabric, crocheted or embroidered ornaments. A few countries actually used blown glass bulbs, primarily the United States, Germany, England and Holland.
The German tree was full of tiny wooden carved nutcrackers amongst the blown glass bulbs. The Holland tree was covered in tiny delft pottery ornaments and under the tree were wooden shoes that are filled by Santa much like he fills our stockings. There are many cultures who put out their shoes instead of stockings for Santa to fill. Mexican children celebrate the three wise men or kings and that’s who brings their gifts. Some country’s trees bear homage to crop harvests and food bounty, while others decorate their trees with small candies or objects filled with sweets and nuts.
The entire exhibit contained many objects either made from nature or directly from nature like pinecones. There were people from every walk of life enjoying the exhibit. Doesn’t it seem amazing that in a hate filled world a common bond as small as a Christmas tree display can erase bias and bond people who come from all walks of life? Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from appreciating other’s cultures not just in the food they eat, but also their customs.