CHICAGO | Mickey Mouse and his friends have added their magical touch to the holiday celebration at the Museum of Science and Industry.
As guests approach the 45-foot Grand Tree in the museum’s rotunda, they are greeted by banners of their favorite Disney characters decked out in holiday outfits.
Mickey head shaped ornaments shine among the tree’s 30,000 lights as Mickey, Minnie and Pluto help trim the tree. Gifts addressed to the gang can be found underneath.
The museum’s main floor also features 53, 12-foot trees decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s ethnic communities. A 54th tree celebrates the Chicago Blackhawks’ championship by paying homage to the team with a Stanley Cup tree topper and hockey puck tree base.
The fun and festive theme for the 72nd annual Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light is inspired by the museum’s new temporary exhibit, Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives.
Giovanni Savaglio, of Munster, has a family membership to the museum and recently took his wife, 6-year-old son and mom to the holiday celebration.
“It was magnificent,” he said. “The Disney tree was the grand centerpiece.”
His family also enjoyed the ethnic trees, especially those dedicated to Italy and Britain, which represent where they are from. The British tree features photos of the royal family and the new prince, which was a nice update, Savaglio said.
“They stay contemporary and do a little changing.”
For his 6-year-old, the museum trip was less about the trees and more about adding to his Christmas list with fun items he spotted in the museum shops including an astronaut costume.
For Northwest Indiana families planning to visit, Savaglio suggests planning ahead because the museum is a big place.
“I’d say pace yourself and the way it’s spread out, you want to make sure you don’t miss a tree. It’s not an orderly line, so just give yourself plenty of time and take it all in. You can’t beat it for the family.”
He said sometimes Northwest Indiana families are deterred by the distance to Chicago but that the museum’s south side location is only 30 minutes from Munster.
“You’re able to share a Christmas experience in Chicago,” he said.
Jeff Buonomo, a South Holland native and manager of temporary exhibits and events at the museum, said this year’s décor appeals to the “many, many, many Disney fans.”
Other pop culture characters such as Dr. Seuss and the Peanuts gang inspired the tree’s theme the past few years and brought a lot of visitors. Buonomo expects the Disney tree will do the same.
“Almost everyone has a Disney connection of some sort whether it was going to the theme parks or growing up with the films and shows,” Buonomo said. “Everyone has such an attachment to them. We have the vintage feeling of the characters and that’s more holiday in nature. People love that nostalgia this time of year.”
Buonomo said museum staff members took the lead on creating all the decorations for the Grand Tree and Rotunda, using graphics provided by the Walt Disney Company.
“We designed it all and then used various in house and out of vendors to produce the elements,” he said.
Festivities also include weekend cultural entertainment from Chicago area groups and schools from Chicago and Northwest Indiana performing on the holiday stage during the weekdays. Something new this year is an enhanced “Trees and traditions” broadcast, which can be pulled up on a smart phone to provide reading or listening of the text for each country.
“That’s a nice supplement to your tour of the 54 trees,” Buonomo said.
Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives celebrates Walt Disney’s legacy with more than 300 artifacts from Disney’s 90-year history.
“The exhibit focuses on Walt himself,” Buonomo said. “There’s a lot of his Midwestern roots that you can see throughout his career.”
Guests who want to find a “hidden Mickey” permanently on display at the museum, should visit the fairy tale castle, which includes a small portrait of Mickey and Minnie dressed as king and queen of hearts.
“We always thought Walt painted it himself,” Buonomo said, but when Disney archivists came in for the temporary exhibit, they learned the portraits were done by artists under Disney’s direction. The fairy castle exhibit is currently undergoing a “once in a blue moon” renovation, Buonomo said, making its tiny artifacts easier to see for guests.
Susan Culler, of Hammond, said she is a big Disney fan and especially loves Minnie Mouse. She and her husband recently took a trip to the museum.
“I highly recommend going to see the trees, and if you are a Disney fan you will love it.” She used 3-D glasses to look at the Grand Tree and said it was cool to see nothing but Mickey Mouse faces.
She also enjoyed seeing the ethnic trees and said a favorite was the Blackhawks tree.
“It was a fun filled day for my husband and me,” she said.