Most trips are taken with a particular purpose and destination in mind, but sometimes, an opportunity arises to go off itinerary and you discover a gem (though places that prove to be less interesting can also provide good stories). On a recent trip to New Haven, we came across a brochure entitled “Christmas in Poland.” A temporary exhibit at the Knight of Columbus Museum, it seemed interesting enough, plus it was free!
Arriving at the museum, we discovered a construction vehicle out front. After circling a couple times in search of a parking spot, we ended up in an hourly public lot with a self-serve kiosk. We thought an hour would be sufficient, most free museums are small and don’t take long to walk through. Then we got inside and heard about all the exhibits. It was then that we also learned there is free parking under the building (note: read the brochure carefully), which of course we would have seen if it weren’t blocked.
The museum’s permanent displays detail the history of the Knights of Columbus, which has origins in New Haven, CT. Founded by Michael J McGivney in 1882, it is the largest Catholic lay organization in the world. The exhibit includes several sculptures and other artwork related to both the Knights and the Catholic Church as well as bits of American history, such as steel girders from the World Trade Center.
A temporary exhibit dedicated to World War I has been extended to April 14, 2019.
The exhibit includes artifacts and documents
from the war and traces the contribution of the Knights to the war effort, both at home and on the battlefield. More than 1,600 of the 116,000 Americans (including both the first and last American military officers) who died in this conflict were members of the fraternal organization.
We took our time through these exhibits (moving the car to the garage after the first hour) before moving on to the reason we came – to explore Christmas in Poland. This is the 14th year the museum is showcasing the Christmas traditions of a world region.
We learned that in Poland, festivities begin December 24 with Christmas Eve dinner, called wigilia (no meat aside from fish is served at this meal; this would sadden many of our relatives) and continue until February 2, with the feast of Candlemas. People sing kolêdy, or carols and create nativity scenes called szopki. A number of examples of szopka are on display, both from their collection and on loan from museums around the world.
In addition, there are two dozen Christmas trees decorated by local elementary schools with the theme, Christmas in Poland. Visitors are invited to vote for their favorite to determine the “People’s Choice Award.” Dozens of handmade ornaments adorn each tree. Some also created szopka for under the tree and included information explaining the reason for some of the decorations. (For example, a spider ornament is included to commemorate the spider said to weave a blanket for the baby Jesus.)
Overall, it was an enjoyable way to spend a couple hours. The museum staff was friendly and informative and the exhibits were both entertaining and educational. Perhaps we’ll take a trip again next year to discover other Christmas traditions around the world.