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The City Journals

Trees of Diversity Exhibit Helps Cultures Connect

Dec 09, 2015 11:52AM ● By Bryan Scott

By Jessica Thompson

West Valley - West Valley City is one of the largest diverse cities in all of Utah. To celebrate that diversity, West Valley City and the Utah Cultural Celebration Center hosts a Trees of Diversity Exhibit every Christmas season. The city and center supply about 30 trees for cultural community groups to decorate in a way that best represents their culture.  Groups such as the New Zealand American Society, the Utah Tibetan Society and Una Mano Amiga Society participated in this year’s tree exhibit. 

“This event is important to residents in West Valley City and their families because they can share and relate to the ethnic communities who display their rich culture in Trees of Diversity,” Anna Cutler, West Valley City’s executive assistant, said.  

There were many beautiful trees on display at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City. One of the first trees was created by Jenny Atkinson with the New Zealand American Society. The tree celebrated the great sacrifice of the Kiwi bird. The tree was interactive with chirping birds and a poster describing how the Kiwi bird sacrificed his wings and became the most well-known and loved bird of the people of New Zealand. 

Another Tree was created by Anna Cutler and Jennifer Christensen to show appreciation to all the Omas in their lives. This tree taught about how the Dutch celebrate Saint Nicholas Eve on Dec. 5 by leaving shoes outside their door, filled with carrots, in hopes that Saint Nicholas would switch the carrots for treats. The tree was beautifully decorated with the traditional wooden Dutch shoes. 

Jeanne Marse helped create a Japanese traditional fall wedding tree for the West Valley Arts Council. This tree was decorated with fall flowers and many gold origami cranes. The decorations symbolized a long life. Also included with this tree was a Japanese traditional white bridal gown and ceremonial sake set. 

“The Trees of Diversity event has become a way to celebrate the end of the year with all of the many community groups we work with.  We get to present a visually stunning exhibition for the holidays, and groups get a chance to share their culture, cause, or business with the public in a celebratory format,” Michael Christensen, visual and performing arts manager at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, said.

Along with the beautiful display of trees was a collection of gingerbread homes created by students at Neil Armstrong Academy, Freemont Elementary School and students in Mrs. Milligan’s kindergarten class. The homes were beautifully decorated with gum drops, pretzels and peppermint candies. 

Just outside of the Trees of Diversity Exhibit were nativity scenes from all around the world. Many nativities were created with recycled material from newspapers, corn husks and cardboard. Seeing how different cultures depict this Christmas scene is beautiful. 

“Part of the exhibit includes crèches from around the world.  They all have the same theme, of course, but are made of so many materials and are representative of so many different cultures and nationalities. I really enjoy that diversity,” Christensen said. 

On Dec. 5, winners were announced for the best tree display. Staff members from the Utah Cultural Celebration Center voted for which tree they thought should be awarded Best Ethnic Tree, Best of Show and the Fab Favorite. At the Winter Market, the African tree created by Granite Education Foundation’s Brett Severe and staff won Best Ethnic Tree. The tree was beautifully decorated with zebras, authentic African masks and traditional instruments.  

The Native American Trading Post tree, created by Peg Smies, won the Best of Show award. This diversity tree really showed families a different take on a Christmas tree by creating their tree out of horizontal wreaths on a trading post, and dangling crystals instead of a typical pine tree. 

The “Frozen” tree, by Ribbon Floral and created by Karen Mitchel and Carly Stilts, won Fab Favorite. This tree stood tall with gorgeous snowflakes, blue ribbon and of course the beloved snowman, Olaf.  

Walking through the Trees of Diversity Exhibit gives families a chance to be transported to places all around the world. For example, the tree created by the Christensen Family taught others about Canada. This tree included a log cabin and stove replica, with a stocking hanging on the fireplace. 

They taught about how pioneers from Utah, led by Charles Card, settled the town of Cardston, Alberta, Canada in the spring of 1887, and built snug log cabins. The replica was of the community’s Christmas in 1887, which was celebrated in the Card home with a beautiful tree and gifts of fabric balls and dolls for the children of the small village. 

“We hope all who come to view our exhibit come away with a better understanding of how unique and beautiful we are as a community, especially when we share our culture,” Cutler said.                 λ