Christmas is built upon layers of beloved family traditions borrowed from a number of different cultures. But Sherrie Lewis makes it her mission every year to educate the public about where those traditions come from with Christmas Around the World, which opens Friday and runs through Dec. 29.
"It's so educational, it's so cultural," Lewis said. "Most people say they learn more about Christmas in a half hour here than they have in their whole life."
The second floor of the Timeless Design Center downtown has been transformed into what Lewis described as "1,500- square-feet of holiday magic."
"What is so interesting about Christmas around the world is that all of these traditions have been woven into the American fabric, and they've become American traditions," she said. "But when you go to something like this, it connects you with the whole world."
For weeks, Lewis and her crew work to decorate the massive space from top to bottom. The decorations and artifacts, either accumulated by Lewis or donated from private collections, represent the customs and traditions of 43 countries. The elaborate, custom-built displays will feature 150 decorated Christmas trees, 800 nutcrackers, one of the largest Nativity collections in the state and more.
"We have Germany, Mexico, China, India, all of the Scandinavian countries, Turkey, Poland -- you name it," Lewis said. "We have all the continents covered. And we're adding three new countries this year: Hungary, Romania and Ecuador."
Not bad, considering that when Lewis began Christmas Around the World, she started out with little else besides her Nativity collection, her husband's nutcracker collection and a passion for international culture -- passion she always made an effort to incorporate into her own family's Christmas celebration.
"I love Christmas; it is a spiritual holiday for me, but also what's made it so special is learning about all of these different traditions," she said. "From the time my kids were little, the international theme was there: We would make Greek cookies, and I always served little Danish apple pancakes on Christmas morning."
In addition to getting people thoroughly immersed in the holiday spirit, Lewis wanted to ensure that her Christmas Around the World was educational. Aiming to create accurate displays for each of the countries, she brought in members of the community with diverse backgrounds to help her construct the displays.
Catering to school groups, families, and children of all ages, Lewis and her daughter also offer guided tours.