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Escaping Holiday Stress: Get the Christmas Spirit at Meijer Gardens

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I’m sitting at a blank computer screen trying to write my November column for Wandering Educators. The holiday season is double-timing obligations and chaos my way.  I work to push aside thoughts of addressing cards, shopping, gift-wrapping, menu planning, calendar juggling and other projects vying for attention. My mind can’t escape the sensory overload and nothing brilliant jumps from its muddled recesses to splash itself across my open word file.
 
Looking for something to share, I consider the deeper meaning of the season, hoping to strip away the veneer of commercialism and distill some real truth. It’s a time of year when most of us reflect on our lives, grateful for family and friends. We try to revisit the holidays as we first saw them, through the innocence of a child’s eyes. At its best the season takes our divergent beliefs and molds us into a kinder, more tolerant and more charitable whole. I spun overused clichés that brought me no closer to getting my column written.
 
Then I asked myself a very simple question:  If I could pass along one suggestion guaranteed to put more joy in your days, remove stress from your tasks, and imbue you with holiday spirit, what would it be? The answer was simple: I’d tell you to check your calendar and find a time when you can visit the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Let it be your gift to yourself and your loved ones.

The Railway Garden as the Miniature Locomotive Passes Above

The Railway Garden as the Miniature Locomotive Passes Above
Photo Courtesy of William J. Hebert 

 
When is the last time you enjoyed a jaunt in an old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage or a sing-along trolley ride? They are part of the magic at Meijer Gardens where 300,000 lights bring a special glow to Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World.
 
The Tree Lighting Ceremony kicks off the season on November 23rd. The forty trees and exhibits are lit at 6:00 p.m. and you can enjoy family activities until 8:00. Holiday excitement remains in full swing through January 9, 2011.

Five of the trees illuminating Meijer Gardens’ Christmas Celebration. Photo Courtesy of William J. Hebert

Five of the trees illuminating Meijer Gardens’ Christmas Celebration. Photo Courtesy of William J. Hebert 

 
The Nativity features prominently in this year’s exhibition. Imagery of this central Christmas theme varies from the Italian Maiolica Presepio by artist Francesca Niccacci, to the warm olive wood nativity of the Middle East, and even to 1950s lithographed cardboard manger sets from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. This year a traditional Polish nativity called Szopka (pronounced shop-kah) took its place next to a delightful Mexican crèche and the Santons of Provence French manger
 
A special Diwali Display, also new this year, awaits visitors in the Tropical Conservatory. It showcases an Indian celebration known as the Festival of Lights, a significant five-day festival in Hinduism.  In the Western calendar, Diwali usually falls between October and November. Diyas, small clay lamps filled with oil, are traditionally lit and displayed in homes and used for puja or prayer. The glowing lamps signify an individual’s triumph of good over evil. Diwali is also celebrated with the art of Rangoli, meaning rows of color. Rangoli designs traditionally feature motifs from nature, plants, flowers, and animals, as well as geometrical patterns. They are made with colored sand, rice or flowers.  Vibrant Rangoli patterns near the entrance to a house and places of worship welcome guests at this special time.

The Rangoli Display. Photo Courtesy of Dave Kagan

The Rangoli Display. Photo Courtesy of Dave Kagan 

 
Santa will make several visits to the Gardens during the holidays and you can listen to the original Dickens Carolers on Tuesday evenings from 6:00 until 8:00. Enjoy extended hours of operation December 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29, and 30 when the facility enchants visitors until 9:00. For further scheduling details and other activities, check www.MeijerGardens.org or call toll-free 888-957-1580.
 
If you have never been to the Gardens before, get a bit of history, background and perspective from my earlier column, A World Class Treasure.

May you leave the Gardens cloaked in warmth that lasts throughout 2011. Happy Holidays.

 

 

Julie Albrecht Royce, Travel Adventures Editor, is the author of Traveling Michigan's Sunset Coast and Traveling Michigan's Thumb, both published by Thunder Bay Press. She writes a monthly column for Wandering Educators.

 

Feature photo:

Savor a Taste of the Past with an Old-Fashioned Horse Drawn Carriage Ride
Photo Courtesy of William J. Hebert

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