ArtFul Living

St. Louis Area Fine Arts, Crafts & Performing Arts

By Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky, Arts Editor

I did a quick search of December holidays, and came up with an interesting list: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Ramadan, St. Nicholas Day, Boxing Day, Omisoka, and a few others that I did not know. The common thread among them all involved special observations of the day. Often it included gift-giving.

I recently heard a report (on NPR) about the human brain and its memory process. The report detailed a study in which participants were asked to recall a particular gift they had received for a particular occasion (i.e., a holiday celebration). Most of the participants had difficulty recalling a singular item that they had received on a specific holiday. However, when asked to describe the events or activities connected to a particular celebration, each participant was easily able to describe what they had done, observed or heard in connection on that occasion.

I still remember those special holiday events from my own childhood: whether getting dressed up to see holiday window displays downtown (the trip always included a lunch treat), or attending a local performance. I remember some of the gifts I received, but it’s those ARTful experiences that remain unfaded for me.

It’s a standard joke, especially among new parents, that babies and even toddlers enjoy unwrapping gifts more than the gift itself. It’s laughable when they play with the box or wrapping paper instead of the toy inside. Why? These little humans are demonstrating something very innate about our nature: humans enjoy participation. We build memories based upon experiences, not upon things.

It’s a good trait to be aware of as we plan for any special occasion.

If you give a tangible gift, regular readers of this column can probably “hear” my standard mantra to give something that is handmade. Original artwork or fine craft endures. It remains a treasure for generations.

Great gifts can also be experiential. Take the family to a performance. Give tickets to an upcoming event. Build a memory by giving an experience. During this season, in particular, there is no lack of opportunities for experiences:

Through December 20, Mustard Seed Theatre presents “Christmas Truce of 1914.” Performed on the Fontbonne campus, the a capella musical is based on the true events during World War I when opposing soldiers lay down their weapons for one night to join in a peaceful celebration and music. Powerful….and sure to make a memorable experience for your family. Visit www.mustardseedtheatre.org for ticket details.
Cathedral Concerts (“Great Music in a Great Space!”) presents its Christmas at the Cathedral concert with an evening performance on December 12 and an afternoon matinee on December 13. Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade joins the Sonos Handbell Ensemble and Archdiocesan choirs for a memorable performance. It’s a holiday tradition for many St. Louisans. Seating for a combined 3,000 people over the two shows often sell out, so order tickets early. Call 314-533-7662 or visit www.CathedralConcerts.org. The sound and the beauty of the Cathedral itself are overwhelming!

The Bach Society of St. Louis presents its Annual Christmas Candlelight Concert on December 23. This year, world-renowned soprano Christine Brewer is featured with the Chorus and Orchestra in singing “The Announcement of Christ’s Birth” from Handel’s Messiah and “O Holy Night.” The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. at Powell Hall. Check www.bachsociety.org or call 314-534-1700 for ticket info asap, as this concert usually sells out quickly.

For kinetic ARTful activity, take the family to the Garden Glow at Missouri Botanical Garden. Bundle up and stroll through the lights to make a great winter memory. The display is lighted on Wednesday through Sunday nights through December 17, and then nightly from December 18 through January 2, 5-9:30 p.m. For details, check out www.mobot.org/glow.

Laumeier Sculpture Park offers a free Family Day in the Kranzberg Education Lab on December 20. All ages can enjoy ARTful activites, 2-4 p.m. Visit www.laumeier.org for details. St. Louis Art Museum offers free Wondedrful Winter Family Sunday activities, 1-4 p.m. on December 6 and 20. Check www.slam.org for more info. Additionally, the St. Louis Art Museum presents Winter Celebration Weekend, December 11-13. It’s a winter extravaganza of holiday traditions and cultures from around the world. Drop in for special performances, treats and family art activities.

So, pick one or two—or ten!—ways to make some special memory-treasures this month. Experiential gifts never go out of fashion, never wear out, remain special forever.

(Healthy Planet Arts Editor Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky, has been chosen for a fifth year, to create Missouri’s ornaments for the 2015 America Celebrates: Ornaments from Across the USA display at President’s Park (White House) in Washington, D.C.)