Snoopy has won the decorating contest again.
He and his friends from the Peanuts gang are the stars in this year’s Christmas Around the World exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry running now through Jan. 6.
Jazz infused music ala Schroeder, a gingerbread version of Snoopy’s doghouse and the Grand Tree decked out in Charlie Brown-inspired ornaments will make visitors feel a part of Charles Schultz’s classic comic strip.
Surrounding the tree in the rotunda, four giant banners depict the Peanuts gang in holiday scenes. Coinciding with a temporary exhibit titled Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit, the museum staff was inspired to dedicate the Christmas decorations to the famous cast of characters.
Jeff Buonomo, a South Holland native and manager of temporary exhibits at the museum, said that Science and Industry's holiday experience is designed for all ages.
“We’ve had great success the last three years of doing a holiday exhibition that goes along with Christmas Around the World,” he said. “This year we did Charlie Brown. It’s someone who’s an inspiration to us and many Americans and has left a big impact on our culture.”
The 45-foot Grand Tree features 30,000 lights and hundreds of ornaments including those that incorporate Charlie Brown’s iconic yellow and black shirt design, depictions of Woodstock and his friends and glittered dog bones that Snoopy would love.
The Grand Tree is surrounded by more than 50 smaller trees decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s ethnic communities to represent their various cultures and holiday traditions.
Visitors to Christmas Around the World will stroll through 50 trees decorated by local ethnic communities, enjoy intermittent falling “snow” and see performances on the Holiday Stage.
The event also features special cultural performances on the Holiday Stage and Holidays of Light.
Holidays of Light, now in its 17th year, is a multicultural display of holidays that celebrate light or enlightenment. The display highlights the traditions of the Chinese New Year, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Hanukkah,Visakha Puja Day and St. Lucia Day.
It takes months of planning to make it all come together, Buonomo said.
In late spring and early summer, the staff starts contacting the volunteers who decorate the trees and the performers to create a schedule that works for everyone.
Assembling the 50 smaller trees begins in late September, and the ethnic groups begin coming in to decorate around Halloween. It typically takes two to three weeks and weekends.
“The whole rotunda is roped off. At times there are trees and ladders everywhere. It’s fun to see all of them working together and showing their ornaments to each other,” Buonomo said.
The volunteer groups start preparations as early as the summer with work on their ornaments and decor. Some refresh past ones. Others craft new ones. Some even go to their native countries to procure decorations.
This year, England dedicated its tree to the Queen’s Jubilee and changed its design. The U.S. tree has a new "Made in the USA" theme and includes decorations all made in America.
For a lot of the groups, this is the one time of year they see each other making it like a big family reunion, Buonomo said.
The museum provides each group with a 12-foot tree and 150 large lights in their choice of color. Several countries also choose not to use lights, Buonomo said.
The grand tree is assembled much like a traditional artificial tree, but on a larger scale. It features a long center pole and each branch goes into the pole individually. “That takes quite awhile to put together,” Buonomo said. This year it took six days from the time the base went into the floor until the tree was constructed and decorated.
After the exhibit, the holiday trees, bases and décor fill close to 50 large crates and are kept in storage on site at the museum. Ornaments and decorations from the smaller trees are kept at the members’ homes of the ethnic groups who decorate them.
Staffers are already thinking about next year’s tree theme, but their ideas are still top secret, Buonomo said.
This year’s holiday experience, which debuted Nov. 15, is already generating great buzz.
“Everyone is just dazzled by all of it,” Buonomo said. “It’s a tradition for so many people. They love to see what we’ve done and what makes it unique and different this year.”
A temporary Charles Schultz exhibit titled Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit coincides with Christmas Around the World, said Jeff Buonomo, a South Holland native and manager of temporary exhibits at the museum.
“We worked the Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., to create this specifically for us. They travel with smaller exhibitions but nothing like this.”
The museum has made it interactive and kid friendly. It includes a recreation of Charles Schultz’s studio, an area dedicated to Snoopy’s doghouse, a large piano visitors can play, a make-and-take activity area and artwork showing the characters through various stages of development. Visitors can continue to view the exhibit through Feb. 18.
Tickets cost $5 for adults and $3 for children.