Festival of Trees: A holiday happening Tree fest: Annual benefit for Kennedy Krieger Institute adds Bengal Tigers and expands cultural exhibits.

Up Front

November 20, 1997|By Jolan Baucum | Jolan Baucum,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Most people find themselves getting anxious as the holiday season approaches. Before anyone notices that the time has gone by, it is time to plan family visits, to organize extravagant meals and to make travel arrangements. Along with these, each family has certain rituals and attends events that make the holidays complete.

Now in its eighth season, the Baltimore area's Festival of Trees, sponsored by the Kennedy Krieger Institute, is quickly becoming one such event.

The festival begins Wednesday at the Timonium Fairgrounds' Cow Palace. This year, the organizers of the festival have planned some surprises.

The Hawthorne White Bengal Tigers are expected to be among the unique offerings this year. The tiger show has traveled around the world in a variety of carnivals and circuses. Second-generation animal trainer William Voch will bring 15 tigers to the Baltimore show. They are scheduled to perform at different times throughout the festival.

Although the Bengal tigers will be new, the festival will offer some of its traditional attractions, too. As in past years, there will be the "Winterland of Wonder" with its nearly 200 trees decorated by community participants and sold to the attendees of the festival to benefit the children of the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

The annual gingerbread house exhibition also returns. But this year, organizers have added a twist; there will be a gingerbread kitchen in which life-size gingerbread men are baking gingerbread homes. The gingerbread houses will be made by professional and amateur area chefs.

What holiday festival is complete without Santa? None, of course, which is why when Santa is not readily available, children will be able to telephone him (presumably at the North Pole) at the Claus Communications Booth. Also for the children, a Polar Playland has been added this year.

Maria Gamble, of the development department at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and three-year participant in the festival, was at a loss for words in attempting to describe the event. "The tough thing about [the Festival of Trees] is that there are so many neat pieces, it's difficult to tell the most impressive," she said.

Overall, this year's festival has sort of an exotic scope. In addition to the White Bengal Tigers from India, organizers have updated the "International Village" exhibit to what is now being called "Holidays Around the World." The attraction gives the festival a more multicultural scope as the Festival of Trees embraces world cultures. In addition to customs surrounding the way Christmas is celebrated by other countries, it also includes other ethnic holidays that are celebrated about the same time of year.

Some of the holidays, such as the African-American Kwanzaa, are based on harvest celebrations similar to those held in some countries in Africa. The Jewish holiday Hanukkah will be represented, as will an Indian celebration of winter called Diwali.

Paulino Garcia, a Mexican-American, is a member of the committee to set up the Mexican Christmas display. He explains the many differences between American and Mexican Christmas.

"The religious celebration begins Dec. 16, and lasts until Dec. 24. This signifies Joseph and Mary's journey or 'posada' to find a place where their child could be born," says Garcia.

Many Mexican families have a fancy traditional dinner at 10 p.m. on Dec. 24, and at midnight they exchange gifts. The dinner signifies the wait for the birth of the Holy Child.

One difference between American and Mexican Christmas is that the gifts are not brought to the children by a magical, jolly old elf who slides down chimneys. The gifts are brought to the children by the Three Wise Men, bearing gifts as they did to the Christ child.

Another celebration that takes place around Christmastime is Kwanzaa. Based primarily on the East African harvest celebrations, Kwanzaa means in Kiswahili the first fruits of the harvest.

Eric King, assistant minister of the Unity United Methodist Church, and its members will be setting up the Kwanzaa display at this year's Festival of Trees. He explains that Kwanzaa, adapted to its present form by Malauna Karenga in 1966, gives African-Americans a spiritual and cultural supplement or alternative to Christmas.

"Kwanzaa serves as a channel to faith, hope and encouragement," King says.

The celebration is seven days long, beginning Dec. 26. Each day, one of the Nguzo Saba or seven principles is emphasized. Each evening, one of seven candles, three red, three green and one black, is lighted in the kinara, the special candleholder. The principles to be focused on during the holiday are umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (work and collective responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith).

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