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Singing and Dancing Planned for Pitt Nationality Rooms

Correction: Some versions of this story aired on 90.5 FM erroneously listed the open house as being held Saturday December 2 when in fact, December 2 is a Sunday. The open house runs from noon to 4:00 on Sunday December 2.

The Nationality Rooms Program at the University of Pittsburgh will throw its doors wide open this weekend for the annual Holiday Open House.  Nearly all of the 29 rooms have been decorated in a way that celebrates a special day in that culture’s year.

We don’t say Christmas anymore, said Nationality Rooms Program Director Maxine Bruhns, “Because we have Hanukkah in the Israel heritage room, we have Kwanzaa in the African room, Chinese New Year in the Chinese room and then some of the others that are Christian have little baby Jesus and things like that.”

The open house begins at noon Sunday and continues through 4:00 with performances from groups associated with several of the heritage rooms including dancing groups from Poland, Greece and Ireland; musical performances from Japan; and yodeling and something called thaler swinging from Switzerland.

“Thaler swinging is something they do up in the mountains when they get bored,” said Bruhns.  “They throw a five dollar piece in a milk bowl and they swing it around… that’s what happens when your herding cows up in the mountains of Switzerland without any amusement.”

2 new additions, more to come

In the last year, two new rooms have opened, a Switzerland room and a Turkey room.  Bruhns said the Turks who helped build the room will not be decorating it this year because they say there are no holiday decorating traditions in their country.  Bruhns said she is hoping somebody will dispute that in the years to come and step forward with some decorations.

The open house also includes food for sale. “The only dispute we have among the Armenians and the Turkeys and the Greeks… is what baklava is the best,” said Bruhns.

Nearly a 75-year tradition

The nationality rooms actually predate the construction of the Cathedral of Learning.  Bruhns said the Pitt Chancellor at the time had been meeting with different ethnic groups when the building was still in the concept phase and came up with the idea. 

The first 19 rooms were built between 1938 and 1956 with the remaining opening since 1965.  Two more national rooms are in the works, one for Korea and the other for Iran.

Before a room can be built, members of the local community must raise funds to complete the decorating work and then commit to raising funds in the future to offer Pitt students scholarships to study in the sponsoring countries.

The nationality rooms will remain decorated and open for paid tours through Jan 18 except on Dec 24-26 and Jan 1.