Text by Hannah Jones
When the holiday season rolls around, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, transforms into a winter wonderland. Covered in a blanket of fresh snow and under the glow of more than 300,000 dazzling lights, both the gardens and the museum welcome guests into the family-favorite Metro Health Christmas & Holiday Traditions exhibition.
Beginning in 1995, the event was originally called Christmas Around the World. Even though the exhibition has expanded greatly since then, the park has kept the same emphasis on featuring holidays celebrated globally while also adding a spotlight on their beloved West Michigan traditions. “We focus on the authenticity of the symbols of beloved holiday traditions,” John VanderHaagen, director of communications, says. “It’s an idyllic spot to center your thoughts on the true meaning of the holidays.”
Every year, the event commences with a tree-lighting ceremony and a visit from Old St. Nick for the little ones. With 46 trees and international displays, the lighting ceremony is a sight to behold for guests of all ages. In addition, John says a favorite of attendees is the famed Railway Garden, a display consisting of model trains, 30 miniature buildings, and Grand Rapids landmarks “handmade out of natural materials and accented with live horticultural elements,” combining the park’s overall concentrations of both horticulture and sculpture art.
In addition to enjoying the trees, displays, and visit from Santa, children and parents can have fun feeding reindeer on the rooftop and listening to traditional carolers decked in Dickens-era garb.
Now celebrating its 25th year, the exhibition is ringing in the season with the same joy as always and making plenty of merry memories along the way. “We hope that guests leave with a sense of awe and wonder,” John says, “and feel like they have learned more about the customs and cultures that people celebrate around the world.”
The event begins on November 26, and it continues through the New Year until January 5. Expecting more than 85,000 visitors, the park staff is planning things a little differently this year to create a safe environment without sacrificing the merry magic of the exhibition.