Indoor Holiday Explorations

In Boston, Children Learn Ethnic Traditions

FAMILIES visiting The Children's Museum in Boston from December through January 1993 will fry up potato latkes in honor of Hanukkah, weave friendship bracelets for Kwanzaa, and march in a winter solstice procession.

The activities are part of the museum's "Winter Celebrations" exhibit that each year honors winter holidays around the world. Museum staff, many of whom celebrate one of the festivals, developed the exhibit four years ago in response to the diverse ways Boston's rainbow of ethnic groups observe holiday traditions.

"The assumption is that if you don't celebrate Christmas, you're not part of the gang," says Joanne Rizzi, the museum's multicultural program codirector. "This is a way for children and adults to see their holiday represented as well as to develop an appreciation and respect for how other cultures observe holidays."

The exhibit incorporates symbols of nine holidays - Christmas, Hanukkah, Santa Lucia Day, Kwanzaa, Three Kings' Day, Nikomo, Japanese New Year, Lunar New Year, and winter solstice - into existing displays. For example, an el mercado del barrio that year-round is full of model groceries found in a Latino market, is decorated for Three Kings' Day, a Latino celebration of the day the three kings arrived at the manger bearing gifts.

In the Hall of Toys exhibit, doll houses are adorned with the trimmings of different celebrations. Kids can peer into the miniature rooms of one house and see Hanukkah festivities. A doll in a white dress with a wreath around her head illustrates how Swedes commemorate Saint Lucia Day, when young girls hand out fancy cakes to friends and family. There is also a treasure hunt for children to find a Jewish menorah or another symbol of a particular holiday represented in glass-enclosed exhibit cases.

Activities and performances are a big part of "Winter Celebrations." A performance of black dance and music teaches kids about the African-American tradition of Kwanzaa. For the Vietnamese and Chinese celebration of the Lunar New Year, yougsters can participate in a dragon dance, games, lantern-making, and other arts and crafts.

Each Sunday through January, the museum holds a multicultural cooking series in which children help whip up such holiday specialties as doka-yaki, sweet-bean-paste-filled pancakes for Japanese New Year, or succotash in recognition of the native American holiday Nikomo.

"Kids get more out of it when they do activities together and share with each other," says Kristina Garrett, exhibit developer. "A lot of times kids have friends who celebrate these holidays. This helps them understand what [the celebrations] mean."

* For holiday hours and additional information, call The Denver Children's Museum at (303) 433-7433, The Children's Museum in Boston at (617) 426-8855, The Los Angeles Children's Museum at (213) 687-8800, or The Children's Museum of Manhattan at (212) 721-1234.

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