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Three to See: Free for the Holidays

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Three to See: Free for the Holidays

Garfield Park Conservatory’s Holiday Traditions show starts this weekend. (Photo by Kristen Plocinik)

From time to time we bring you three cultural events to jazz up your social life. This week's Three to See is brought to you by the swingin' Shawn Campbell.

It's the day after Thanksgiving, and you know what that means – ‘Jingle Bell Rock' is already omnipresent, public spaces have been merrily festooned with candy canes and garland, and parents are running one another down to grab that last Nintendo Wii.  So what to do? Give in to the creeping holiday cheer, or opt for something completely different? 

This week, I'll help you ease into the season, or avoid it altogether.

First up, if you're ready to get into the holiday spirit, but looking for a low-key, lovely, pleasant smelling way to do it, consider a trip to the Garfield Park Conservatory

There's actually no such thing as a “holiday” for the conservatory.  It's open every day of the year.  But its annual Holiday Traditions flower show does start today.

In celebration of the conservatory's centennial, this year's show will use an array of poinsettias that were popular in fashionable homes a century ago,  according to director Mary Eisenbach.

EISENBACH: We grow about 2500 plants for this show, and we grow about 800 poinsettias for the show, so you can imagine, the place is just full of poinsettias.

Eisenbach says the conservatory's long history allows it to showcase plants you can't see anywhere else.

EISENBACH: You've heard a lot about heirloom plants, and some of the older traditional plants.  Well, because we grow our own stock here, and because we can save our stock from year to year, we're able to produce plants that haven't been around, that other people don't have access to, for decades actually, because we've been doing these shows for so long.

The holiday traditions flower show opens today and runs through January 11th at Garfield Park Conservatory.

Maybe you love the holiday season, and are ready to jump in with both feet.  If so, head to Millennium Park tonight for a city tradition now in its fourth year – caroling at Cloud Gate [pdf], a.k.a. “the bean.” 

From now until Christmas, a different top city choir will lead the singing.  This week, it's the 130 member Apollo Chorus.

Millennium Park program associate Lacey Capps sets the scene.

CAPPS: As soon as you hit Central Promenade in Millennium Park, you're going to see tons of carolers everywhere.  The Apollo Chorus will be there.  And then you'll see people handing out candles, program books, and it's kind of like a sing-along event, so you can jump in when and wherever you like. 

And she encourages singers to lend their dulcet tones – or their enthusiastic, if a bit off-key, tones – to the holiday favorites.

CAPPS: Singers that are just joining in, definitely don't be intimidated.  I mean, it's going to be a mixed group – just come and have a good time.  That's really what it's all about -- just to kind of enhance your holiday experience.
CAMPBELL: You don't have to be a great singer?
CAPPS: You do not have to be a great singer.

Caroling gets underway at the Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park tonight at 6.

If Christmas songs, packed malls and giant inflatable yard Santas aren't on your agenda, for cultural or simply aesthetic reasons, the University of Chicago's Middle East Music Ensemble offers a welcome respite this Saturday evening.

The Ensemble will whisk its audience far away from the influences of western culture, back to the Old City of Jerusalem, with a wide-ranging selection of music from around the region.

Ensemble director Issa Bowlos designed the program to reflect what a visitor might actually experience as he strolled the streets of the old city.

BOWLOS: You walk down in one of those old neighborhoods, and you hear Armenian music, and you hear Ottoman music, and you hear Turkish music, and you hear Greek music.  Then you find a group of Russian Orthodox priests walking down and singing their own songs.  There is nothing in Jerusalem that really doesn't have kind of a face in terms of music.

Bowlos encourages families to bring their young children, and promises them a musical adventure.

BOWLOS: We're going to take you on a journey where the canoe is kind of streaming down the river.  However, there are some places that will be not necessarily expected, so…watch out on the right.

The University of Chicago Middle East Music Ensemble performs Saturday night at 6 at the International House Assembly Hall on East 59th Street.

I'd be remiss if I didn't add one important post script:  Even if these tough economic times – or an overabundance of “black Friday” shopping – have taken a bite out of your budget, none of our choices will add a penny to your expenses.  This week's Three to See are all “Free to See” – none of them has an admission charge.  And that's an early holiday gift anyone would be happy to unwrap.

For 848 on Chicago Public Radio, I'm Shawn Campbell.

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