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University of michigan health-west:

christmas & Holiday traditions | Gather

November 21, 2023 through January 7, 2024

Warm up this winter as we celebrate what it means to Gather in a colorful community across the world.

This exhibition—honoring cultures and holiday traditions from around the world—has grown to more than 40 unique displays depicting fact and folklore, past and present. University of Michigan Health-West: Christmas & Holiday Traditions is a hallmark Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park exhibition. Dedicate time to appreciate the stunning presentations of winter plantings, the artistry of our adorned Christmas trees, intriguing cultural displays and the beloved Railway Garden. Venture outdoors and discover the beauty of nature with wintertime walks. Indoors and out, our magnificent grounds sparkle with 350,000 lights.

about the exhibition

November 21, 2023 through January 7, 2024

We’re spotlighting the ways in which diverse cultures around the world come together in colorful community during the holiday season. From feasts and festivals to ceremonies and stories, to crafts and carols sung in chorus, folks near and far gather to celebrate in good company with friends and family. This year’s exhibition features enhanced indoor lighting and a new outdoor light experience Winter Glow at the DeVos Van Andel Piazza surrounding The American Horse, beginning at 6pm on December 18-22 and 26-30. Come join in on our joyful global gathering at the University of Michigan Health West: Christmas & Holiday Traditions exhibition!

This exhibition honors cultures and holiday traditions from around the world. The annual exhibition celebrating Christmas and Holiday Traditions and the winter season is a hallmark of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Meijer Gardens collaborates with community partners on the development of the exhibition. Traditions vary from region to region and family to family. The details of each display do not suggest that all people in any one culture celebrate the holidays in exactly the same way. Meijer Gardens honors the joy all families bring to one another when they gather in celebration. Lena Meijer and some of her family and friends began Christmas & Holiday Traditions in 1995, with 20 displays. For 2023, the exhibition has grown to over 40 displays depicting both fact and folklore, past and present. Dedicate some time to appreciate the stunning presentations of winter plantings, the artistry of our adorned Christmas trees, intriguing cultural displays, and the beloved Railway Garden. Venture outdoors and discover the beauty of nature with wintertime walks. Indoors and outdoors, our magnificent grounds will sparkle with more than 350,000 lights.

traditions around the world: Gather


Seollal, the Korean New Year, is the most important Korean holiday. Seollal is the first day of a new lunar year, which falls between late January and late February. It is a three-day holiday during which many families will return to their hometown and perform ancestral rituals. The Seollal celebration begins with everyone wearing a hanbok . The hanbok is the traditional Korean dress without pockets, characterized by vibrant colors and simple lines. Modern-day Koreans wear this as semiformal or formal wear only during traditional festivals and celebrations.

Sponsored by: Hanna & Alex Tuzzolino and Family


In some cultures, birds feature prominently in holiday celebrations and traditions. From December 14 through January 5, people across Canada, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count—a holiday tradition for over 50,000 birders each year. The Audubon Society and other groups use the data from this census to evaluate the health of bird populations. These efforts make a difference for both science and bird conservation.

Sponsored by: BHS Insurance


Families and friends gather each night during Kwanzaa for a candlelit ceremony. The candleholder, or kinara, symbolizes common ancestry. A straw mat called a mkeka is a symbol of tradition and foundation. Mazao are fruits and vegetables, representing unity; the unity cup, or kikombe cha umoja, symbolizes togetherness. The muhindiare are ears of corn that represent offspring. Children are the center of the Kwanzaa celebration because they represent hope for the future. As in many other holiday traditions, Kwanzaa celebrations often include music. Several songs written for the holiday are educational, teaching lessons about the meaning of Kwanzaa as they are sung. Traditional African music is also popular, often including instruments like drums and the thumb piano.


In France, santons, or little saints, accompany the traditional manger scene. The santons represent villagers from the French countryside. Each one of these little villagers, from the fishmonger to the shepherd, has a gift to offer the baby Jesus and is en route to the manger to join in the celebration of his birth. The santons tradition began in the early 1800s, when peddlers came to Provence, in southern France, bringing with them little clay figures. Soon, French artisans began creating their own santons and adding them to their Nativity scenes.


Peteca, a popular game similar to badminton, is played during the holidays in Brazil. Petecas were invented by a group of South American Indian tribes: the Tupians. The petecas represented here look like brightly colored badminton birdies; they were handcrafted by community volunteers who have Brazilian heritage and an interest in Brazilian culture.


Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish author and poet, most famous for his fairy tales. To illustrate his stories, he skillfully crafted intricate and beautiful paper-cuts, folding the paper once or twice to create patterns, figures, and landscapes with his scissors. It has become a tradition in Denmark to decorate with paper-cuts similar to Andersen’s during the holidays. In Denmark, a traditional Christmas tree, or juletrae, is decorated with many handmade ornaments. The entire family participates in an annual craft day.


Szopka (pronounced shop-kah), the Polish Nativity scene, originated as a portable puppet theater used for morality teachings in churches at Christmastime in Kraków, Poland’s capital, in the 1700s. The architecture of the szopka was inspired by Kraków’s famous landmarks. The beautiful, ornate structures of the szopka were made by craftsmen from simple materials like wood and cardboard and covered with colorful paper. In the 1800s, with the change in political climate, authorities banned szopka construction and performance. Following World War I, the art of the szopka was revived in Kraków with a crèche competition becoming an annual event. To this day, it’s a family holiday tradition.


Please enjoy the award-winning film joy, highlighting several locally celebrated traditions from centuries ago still vital today. The film is showing continuously in the Hoffman Family Auditorium. You can also watch joy by tapping the “joy” image. 

Play Video

railway garden

The Railway Garden creates a winter wonderland during the University of Michigan Health-West: Christmas & Holiday Traditions exhibition. Trains weave their way around holiday-themed horticulture and dozens of West Michigan and Sister City miniature landmarks—made of natural materials—within the Grace Jarecki Seasonal Display Greenhouse.

Lead Railway Garden Sponsor

Christmas & Holiday Traditions Exhibition Programming

Member exhibition programming


Sunday 11 am - 5 pm
Monday 9 am - 5 pm
Tuesday 9 am - 9 pm
Wednesday 9 am - 5 pm
Thursday 9 am - 5 pm
Friday 9 am - 5 pm
Saturday 9 am - 5 pm


Members (with ID) FREE
Adults (14-64) $20.00
Seniors (65 and older) $15.00
Students (with student ID) $15.00
Museums for All $2.00
Children (3-13) $10
Children (2 and younger) FREE


scheduled grounds maintenance

On Tuesday, April 16, the Treehouse Village and Woodland Boardwalk in the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden and the Gwen Frostic Woodland Shade Garden will be closed due to tree removal for the safety of our guests. Thank you for your understanding. 

Garden closures

Please note: The Harvey Lemmen Sculpture Gallery in the Sculpture Park will be closed May 20-21 for scheduled tree work. Thank you for your understanding.

Spring Break Hours

Extended Hours

Enjoy extended spring break hours until 9 pm on April 1-5.

Extended Member Early Hours

Each Sunday from 9-11 am during Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming and Saturday, April 6, from 8-9 am. 


Sunday 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Monday 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Tuesday 9:00 am - 9:00 pm
Wednesday 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Thursday 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Friday 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Saturday 9:00 am - 5:00 pm


Members (with ID) FREE
Adults (14-64) $20.00
Seniors (65 and older) $15.00
Students (with student ID) $15.00
Museums for All $2.00
Children (3-13) $10
Children (2 and younger) FREE