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Nationality Rooms Open House is ready for the holidays

By Pamela Diana

Point Park News Service

The Nationality Room Open House in Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning will showcase Pittsburghers’ ethnic holiday roots this weekend with native displays and other programs to highlight holiday history from around the world.

There will be rooms adorned with trees, wreaths and other decorations reflecting each room’s nationality.

If hungry, there will be chlebicky (Czech open-faced sandwiches) and bobalky (Slovak Christmas Eve dough balls) to munch on, plus much more. 

The annual Nationality Rooms Open House will be from noon – 4 p.m. Saturday,  Dec. 2.

At no charge, visitors can  wander through holiday-decorated Nationality Rooms, sample ethnic holiday treats, purchase artifacts, see dancing and music troupes.

“We’re in our 21st year and expect between 2,500 to 3,000 people for the event,” says E. Maxine Bruhns, director of the program. 

Guides from Quo Vadis, a student organization that researches the rooms in great detail, will be in native dress of each nationality to talk about the holiday traditions and history .

The cavernous Gothic hall will house a marketplace with 28 vendors selling ethnic food, artifacts and crafts.

During the afternoon, Polish, Greek, Chinese, Croatian, Irish and India dancing troupes will perform as well as Japanese TAO drummers (taiko drumming mixes martial arts and music) and a Swiss yodeling group.

All vendor booth food proceeds and 25% of artifacts and craft proceeds will go towards each Nationality Room account, according to Bruhns.

When the Cathedral of Learning was built in 1926, the Nationality Room Program was envisioned to be a circle of rooms around the foundation of the 43-story Gothic tower representing the ethnic diversity of the hardworking people of Pittsburgh.  It was both symbolic and spiritual according the University of Pittsburgh website.

There are 26 Nationality Rooms on the first and third floor of the Cathedral of Learning.

Each room represents the architectural aspects of its heritage with desks, chairs, light fixtures, colorful murals, stained glass and other nationality specialties in the rooms. 

Many generations of Pittsburghers visit with their children which inspires pride in their own heritage and a quest to learn about other nationalities according to the Nationality Rooms website.

“The first five Nationality Rooms – Germany, Sweden, Scotland, Russian and the Early American Room – were dedicated in 1938,” says Bruhns.   Turkey and Switzerland are the newest editions to the Cathedral with the Korean Room being built and planned for dedication in 2014 according to Bruhns.

Bruhns says that for a room to be built and sustained, the ethnic group must have $300,000 to $500,000 for the construction of the room, plus endow a scholarship every year.  It takes approximately 10 years for a group to acquire this kind of commitment according to Bruhns.  The five-week scholarship is granted to a student to go abroad to work on a worthy cause.  “One awardee went to Africa to study malaria and its effects,” says Bruhns.

The Nationality Room Open House event is free and open to the public on Sunday, December 2 from noon until 4 p.m.

Other times during the year, tours by student guides (who are required to take an oral and written exam on the history of the Cathedral) for groups of ten or more are $4 for adults and $2 for youths (6-18 years).   You can also tour the rooms online according to Nationality Rooms website.

The Nationality Rooms are opened 360 days of the year to the public.  During the fall and spring, the Nationality Rooms are used for classes by University of Pittsburgh students.  If you would like a self-guided tour, the rooms are open on the weekends for audiotape tours.  From the end of April to the beginning of September, audiotape tours are available Sundays through Saturdays according to the Nationality Rooms website. 

The Nationality Rooms is located in the Cathedral of Learning, Commons Room, University of Pittsburgh, located at 1209 Cathedral of Learning, Oakland, Pa. 

For more information visit, or call 412-624-6000.

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