It is Christmas today in the United States, but it is not Christmas everywhere.
A few days ago, I visited the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, PA. The Cathedral of Learning is an academic building owned by the University of Pittsburgh and is home to many classrooms, offices, and program departments. Built in 1926, this gothic structure stands at around 535 feet tall with 42 floors. The Cathedral of Learning is a historic Pittsburgh landmark and also the tallest university building in the United States (second in the world after the Moscow State University building).
Upon entering the first floor of “Cathy,” as it is referred to by Pitt students, you are immediately immersed in the late Gothic revival architecture. The smooth stone surrounds you and climbs up high above to meet at pointed ceilings. Iron chandeliers hang and give the space a warm, almost medieval candelight glow. The atmosphere is somewhat reminiscent of the Great Hall in Harry Potter. While the interior is impressive, there is something else very special about the Cathy that sets it apart from other academic buildings.
Behind some of the closed doors of the classrooms on the first and third floors lie very special classrooms called Nationality Rooms. With about 30 in total, these rooms are designed to respresent the country and some of the culture of its national benefactor. The only thing that the nationality rooms have in common are that they are designed to be classrooms with desks or tables and a black board or projector. With this foundation in mind, each room is decorated from floor to ceiling with furnishings from that country’s culture.
The Austria room, for example, takes on a royal Viennese baroque style, with a red and white interior and chandelier. The Welsh room, on the other hand, is more spartan, with wooden desks designed to look like church pews. Other rooms include France, India, Japan, and the Philippines, just to name a few.
Around the holidays, these rooms are adorned with little festive decorations and informational displays, explaining the traditions in each country. For example, Armenia’s room explained that the holiday is celebrated between January 1st and 6th with visits to relatives and the exchanging of gifts. Another example, is that many German-speaking countries hold their primary Christmas festivities on the 24th and have celebrations that last a few days. In the Israel room, there was one little corner with a menorah and dreidel display and brief explanation of Hanukkah.
For me, it’s so much more fun and interesting to learn about different cultures in context. It was especially nice to see and learn about the winter festivities that go on around the world when I’m here spending Christmas the American way. The Nationality Rooms can be a fun, little educational adventure if you’re in the area. To those of you celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or any of the other many holidays at this time— merry days to you all and to all a good night!