Last Updated on February 7, 2023 by Jeremy
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Note: The Nationality Rooms will not be decorated for the holidays in 2021 due to COVID. We hope the rooms will return with holiday festivities in 2022.
The Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning are one of Pittsburgh's true gems. These rooms function as classrooms for the University of Pittsburgh, but they are much more than that- they are also designed in the style of classrooms from various countries around the world.
Although we always love taking out of town visitors to these rooms, perhaps the best time of year to do so is the Christmas season.
From late November to early January every year, these classrooms come alive with Christmas trees and other holiday decorations that are representative of decorations from their respective countries. And if that wasn't enough, the common area of the cathedral is also decked out with even more Christmas trees and decorations as well!
Elegant Christmas Decorations at the Cathedral of Learning
Huge lighted trees and wrapped presents frame the entrances to the common area of the cathedral.
We saw many families and couples taking pictures in front of these displays, and rightly so – the decorations are classic and beautiful, especially against the gothic architecture.
Just don't mind the hoards of students studying at the desks in the lobby!
But there is more to the holiday season at the Cathedral of Learning as the Nationality Rooms are decorated as well!
The Nationality Rooms Celebrate Christmas Traditions
If you are looking to go a little deeper into the Christmas decorations, a paid tour of the Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning is a must during the holiday season (tours are self-guided with an audio guide).
During Christmas many of the Nationality Rooms are decorated for Christmas, and while these decorations are not generally not elaborate they do give subtle nods to traditions found in each country. Many of the rooms also have special signs explaining some of the Christmas traditions in the country.
In the Hungarian room, you'll find a tree decorated with traditional felt ornaments. These ornaments are red and white with brightly colored elaborate embroidery- beautiful!
In the Lithuanian room, you'll simply find an elegant tree with handmade straw ornaments.
While in other rooms you'll find nativity scenes with descriptions of annual traditions!
The Nationality Rooms that are located on the third floor, which are typically free, mostly did not have decorations. So if you really want to check out the Christmas decorations you'll want to pay for the self-guided tour.
A Little Something For Countries That Don't Observe Christmas
What about the countries where the majority of citizens don't celebrate Christmas, you ask?
I actually hadn't even thought of this one until we made our way into the Chinese room, and as I turned the door handle the question crossed my mind as to what we would see.
The room was decorated for the upcoming Chinese New Year (typically late January or early February) and also had an accompanying description about the event which was a nice touch.
We noticed a few decorations in rooms from other countries that do not generally celebrate Christmas; however, it is worth noting that not every room had dedicated descriptions of the decorations so a few may have just been coincidental.
Try to Visit for the Annual Holiday Open House
Each year on the first Sunday of December the Cathedral of Learning hosts an open house to celebrate the Nationality Rooms.
This event features free access to the rooms, live music and dance performances in the Commons Room at the Cathedral of Learning, costumed guides in each room, and food for sale as well! It's a great way to get into the spirit of the holidays and learn about the Christmas traditions in other countries.
The Cathedral of Learning is an accessible building at the University of Pittsburgh and is located at 4200 Fifth Avenue. It is worth noting that the Nationality Rooms are only open for tours on weekends during the holiday season with limited hours over Christmas and New Year. Like visiting during the rest of the year, tours are self-guided with an audio guide and costs roughly $4 per person. This includes access to the rooms on the first floor via a key that comes with the audio guide, while the rooms on the third floor are often open and free to visit pending use (they are classrooms, after all). Decorations are typically set up in mid-November and are up until mid-January. Click here for more information about holiday hours!
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