From Nov. 26, 2019 to Jan. 5, 2020 the Frederik Meijer Gardens held their annual Metro Health Christmas & Holiday Traditions exhibition. This year was the 25 year anniversary of the event and brought in about 85,000 joyful visitors.
According to Laurene Grunwald, the Director of Sculpture, Art Collections, Exhibitions and Installations at Meijer Gardens, this event began as a humble, family built exhibition. However, it grew to be something much greater.
“This exhibition was originally created by the members of the Meijer family and friends using an exhibition design they had seen at another institution 25 years ago,” Grunwald said. “Since then many things have evolved and changed. We now have two full time staff who work on this all year round with a multidisciplinary team from many different departments.”
The exhibition included a vast array of lights, as well as programming on Tuesday evenings and weekends. On top of this, there were roaming professional carolers, The Original Dickens Carolers, Santa visits, Rooftop Reindeer and wintertime walks. There were also several holiday parties offered for Frederick Meijer Gardens members.
In addition, there was a film created to highlight the local community celebrations during the holiday season that played in the auditorium. It has been posted on Frederick Meijer Garden’s YouTube channel as well for those that could not see the film in person.
By far their most popular holiday tradition is the international holiday displays. This exhibition focused on decorated Christmas trees, but also goes far beyond that with other cultural displays. It was a celebration of different cultures all around the world and their respective holiday traditions.
There were 46 different trees and displays set up for each guest to enjoy. Of those trees, 26 were decorated and 19 were cultural displays.
Grunwald states that Meijer Gardens make an effort to be welcoming and inclusive. They feel that it is important to recognize and value each culture, especially during the holiday season.
“As with every day of the year, except the three we are closed to the public, we provide a place to gather and enjoy an enriching cultural experience,” Grunwald said. “This time of year, this is emphasized with the holiday season. We provide an opportunity for friends and family to gather and be enveloped in both a fun and educational visit, enjoying traditions and creating new ones of their own.”
Not only were the displays unique to each of their respective cultures, but they are also constantly being renovated to accurately depict them.
“We are constantly updating the displays with what we have researched to be authentic to the different cultures and traditions, however, we also recognize that what we are displaying is one depiction of this and everyone has their own spin on how to represent a country or festival or holiday,” Grunwald said. “We all have different traditions that are unique to our experiences. We try to base our displays on core, widely recognized elements that bring people together.”
Grunwald claims that the team plans to continue authenticating the cultural displays, as well as add different cultures to the mix in the coming years.
“Bigger does not always equal better, so our focus is to provide the highest quality experience in new and exciting ways each year but to keep the familiar present so that the experience provides the memories of the past, too,” Grunwald said. “We have been highlighting themes each year to provide a new way to experience the exhibition.”
Through the years the exhibition has held true to being a warm, cheerful celebration for all that come to visit. Grunwald says that if she had to describe the event and all that it offers to visitors in one word, it would be joyful.
“I think (joyful) is how I see the season when you take time to focus on what’s important to us all,” Grunwald said. “I think for some visitors this is a tradition and a place of joy and warmth. It’s a place to gather and enjoy time together while exploring a beautiful environment.”