Going from 20 displays in 1995 to more than 45 international tree spectacles today, the Metro Health Christmas & Holiday Traditions exhibition is back at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park with more than 300,000 bright lights.
On display through Jan. 5, 2020, the show’s theme this year is symbolism, focusing on signs of the holiday season and how the meaning behind these iconic symbols correlates with cultural traditions across the globe.
“We wanted to highlight an assortment of beliefs because different cultures celebrate Christmas with various ancient rituals and dances,” said Steve LaWarre, director of horticulture at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. “These different decorations are reminiscent of the burials, ceremonies and dances performed.”
As part of this symbolic theme, the exhibition features new trimmings and pairings, including an emphasis on birds, dolls, drums, trade beads, and wreaths. Though LaWarre and his team planned three years in advance to add fresh and unfamiliar elements to this year’s exhibition, they still wanted to honor their own traditions at Meijer Gardens.
“The Railway Garden has been a great long-term tradition for us and it’s now an integral part of the Christmas & Holiday Traditions exhibition,” LaWarre said. “It’s a garden-scale train that runs through a unique horticultural display, making you feel like you’re actually standing within the Railway Garden space. Scale falls away, and you become part of that garden when you walk under the trestle and see the train overhead and trolleys down below.”
While the constructions and plantings for the Christmas & Holiday Traditions exhibition were being prepared, LaWarre found himself gaining a better understanding of what holiday traditions mean to families and communities.
“Each week, I walk through and see things that I’m really excited for people to experience,” he said.
“It has reconnected me with who I am and slowed me down a little bit, making me appreciate things in a way I don’t get to do other times of the year.”
Along with this annual exhibition, Meijer Gardens is continuously screening, in the Hoffman Family Auditorium, its 15-minute short film, joy, which showcases four local traditions in West Michigan.
“One of the things that blows me away with this film is that I had no idea that we had so many diverse cultural traditions right here in our own town and own city,” LaWarre said.
“It’s important that people know there’s a lot of culture in our own community, outside of what we, as individuals, are familiar with. It adds to our understanding of each other as humans to bring people joy and help people appreciate their past as well as learn about other areas of the world.”
Metro Health Christmas and Holiday Traditions
Frederik Meijer Gardens
1000 E. Beltline Ave. NE, Grand Rapids
Nov. 26 - Jan. 5, 2020