ShareThis Page
Allegheny

Pitt's Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms decked out for the holidays

Tawnya Panizzi
| Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, 6:27 p.m.
Larry Kozlowski, chairman of the Polish committee at the Nationality Rooms, makes homemade Oplatki for the holiday open house on Dec. 2, 2018.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
Larry Kozlowski, chairman of the Polish committee at the Nationality Rooms, makes homemade Oplatki for the holiday open house on Dec. 2, 2018.
The 27th annual Nationality Rooms holiday open house on Dec. 2, 2018 included performances inside the Cathedral of Learning on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
The 27th annual Nationality Rooms holiday open house on Dec. 2, 2018 included performances inside the Cathedral of Learning on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland.
Annie Hayden, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, works as a tour guide in the Irish room at the Nationality Rooms open house on Dec. 2, 2018.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
Annie Hayden, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, works as a tour guide in the Irish room at the Nationality Rooms open house on Dec. 2, 2018.
Wendy Bennett of Squirrel Hill receives a Henna tattoo from Sanju Yadar during the Nationality Rooms open house on Dec. 2, 2018.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
Wendy Bennett of Squirrel Hill receives a Henna tattoo from Sanju Yadar during the Nationality Rooms open house on Dec. 2, 2018.
Members of the Philippines committee sell Biko, or sweet rice cakes, during the Nationality Rooms open house on Dec. 2, 2018.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
Members of the Philippines committee sell Biko, or sweet rice cakes, during the Nationality Rooms open house on Dec. 2, 2018.
The Polish table at the Nationality Rooms holidayopen house featured homemade traditional bird/walnut ornaments on Dec. 2, 2018.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
The Polish table at the Nationality Rooms holidayopen house featured homemade traditional bird/walnut ornaments on Dec. 2, 2018.
The German table at the Nationality Rooms open house on Dec. 2, 2018.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
The German table at the Nationality Rooms open house on Dec. 2, 2018.
The Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh hosted an open house on Dec. 2, 2018 with performances to represent a variety of cultures.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
The Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh hosted an open house on Dec. 2, 2018 with performances to represent a variety of cultures.
A tour guide explains the holiday traditions inside the Hungarian Room during the 27th annual open house by the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh on Dec. 2, 2018.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
A tour guide explains the holiday traditions inside the Hungarian Room during the 27th annual open house by the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh on Dec. 2, 2018.
The African Heritage table at the Nationality Rooms open house on Dec. 2, 2018.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
The African Heritage table at the Nationality Rooms open house on Dec. 2, 2018.
The German committee hosted a table full of traditional ornaments, foods and books at the Nationality Rooms open house on Dec. 2, 2018 at the University of Pittsburgh.
Tawnya Panizzi | Tribune-Review
The German committee hosted a table full of traditional ornaments, foods and books at the Nationality Rooms open house on Dec. 2, 2018 at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning came alive Sunday for visitors to experience authentic holiday traditions from around the world, from Philippine sweet rice Biko to Lithuanian straw ornaments and Welsh currant tea cakes.

The 27th annual open house was attended by thousands who took advantage of mild weather to meander through the 30 rooms decked out in traditional holiday grandeur.

“It’s important to keep these traditions alive and teach people about them,” said Frances Zalesky, a Verona resident and member of the Lithuanian committee.

Zalesky’s grandparents both migrated from Lithuania and educated her on the simple straw ornaments and window candles that would be used to celebrate Christmas.

“There would be a Christmas Eve dinner that would be meatless and dairy free,” she said. “It would be a lot of fish and veggies.”

The Nationality Rooms are on the first and third floors of the Cathedral of Learning. Each was designed to represent the culture of various ethnic groups that settled in Allegheny County and are supported by individual committees. Though tours are offered year-round, the holiday open house is meant to reintroduce people to the rooms, said Maryann Sivak, assistant to the director of the Nationality Rooms.

The event featured Pitt student tour guides in each room to explain the history of the culture’s holiday celebration to visitors.

Annie Hayden, a junior, talked about how Irish homes would be appointed with fresh holly and ivy and focus on the manger. German room tour guide Chiara Montenegra said Germans were the first to decorate Christmas trees and almonds are commonly used as ornaments.

Zach Hartman, the Polish room tour guide, told a touching tale of how Polish families celebrate with a big family meal but always leave an empty plate for the coming of Jesus.

“I thought that was kind of a neat thing to learn,” Hartman said.

There was a buzz of people in and around each of the rooms, with music and dance performances in the grand lobby, and foods, ornaments and craft tables scattered about.

Organizers expected 4,000 people would be milling around, sampling salmon pie from Finland and curry from India.

Lynn Ejzak of Penn Hills and Sally Morton of Bloomfield dressed in traditional Finnish frocks to serve blueberry tarts and raise awareness, and money, for a potential room representing Finland.

It costs about $400,000 to design and curate each room, Ejzak said. They have reached about one-quarter of that in fundraising, she said, but hopes that the room becomes reality in just a few years.

Larry Kozlowski, of Monroeville, is a retiree who now fills his schedule chairing the Polish committee. He travels the Pittsburgh region teaching the traditions and recipes of his ancestral land, he said.

On Sunday, he made hundreds of oplatki, or thin wafers, and explained to visitors that Polish families are great believers in recycling.

“They save egg shells and feathers, all the things that we throw away, and use them to make ornaments and decorate,” he said.

Jack Owen of McCandless said that the Welsh are known for a simple style of decorating with greens and candles in the windows.

“It’s very plain,” he said, “but beautiful.”

Amid all the activity, Squirrel Hill resident Wendy Bennett sat motionless and admired the brown henna tattoo being painted on her wrist by Sanju Yadav. She makes it a tradition to attend the holiday open house every year.

“Growing up, my great aunt would bring me,” she said. “The food, the dance — what’s not to love?”

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 412-782-2121, ext. 2, tpanizzi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tawnyatrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me