- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

Christmas has come and gone, but yesterday was the beginning of a three-day festival showcasing various ethnic and religious holiday celebrations.
Visitors to the National Museum of American History's "Holiday Celebration" saw live musicians from Bolivia, helped make cakes indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago, and decorated gingerbread men before devouring them. They listened to Kwanzaa stories, and children made Polish and Jewish crafts.
"We're all here together, wrapped in the red, white and blue," said Dietra Montague, sitting next to her Kwanzaa altar, which was only a small part of her sprawling "altar for the healing of America."
"We are what America is," she said, referring to the many different cultures represented by displays and performers.
The celebration's purpose is to display how different ethnic or religious groups celebrate the winter holidays, said organizer Dottie Green. "The primary reason for doing this is so people will learn how diverse we are," she said. "The goal is to have people walk away having learned about a culture they knew nothing about before."
Many people also needed an outlet for their children after spending much of Christmas Day at home. Kevin Builta, 44, an American who lives in Finland and is in the area visiting his parents, brought his wife and four children to the celebration so the children could cut loose and learn new things.
"They get to build things, and do things and eat things, too," Mr. Builta said as his daughters learned the art of Polish paper cutouts. "There's a good educational value," he added.
"It's a fun family thing to do," said Perry Killam. He came with his wife, daughter and parents, who are visiting from Durham, N.C. Mr. Killam, 35, and his father, Allen, 68, sat listening to Andean music played by the Mystic Warriors, while daughter Sarah, 4, danced and looked forward to the pinata-breaking to come later.
"She's after the pinata so she can get lots of candy," said her grandfather.
The "Holiday Celebration" has been held for more than 20, according to Miss Green, who has been organizing the event for five years.
Although she and other organizers said attendance was the same as past years, one visitor disagreed. "There's nobody here this year," said Janine Steere, 43, there with relatives. "Last year it was mobbed."
Mrs. Steere mentioned September 11 and its possible effect on attendance. "I think people are a little hesitant to get out of their doors," she said.
Not Mr. Builta. "It hasn't really affected our willingness to come," he said.
And not the Killams. Allen Killam said he and his wife have visited the area numerous times recently.
The events of September 11 were what spurred Miss Montague to construct her gigantic altar for healing in America. The celebration is representative to her of America's currently evolving ethnic makeup.
"There's such a powerful vision of what America is developing into as a country," she said. "We're all here together That means we're going to have to work on being together better."
The "Holiday Celebration" runs from noon to 4 p.m., and will continue through tomorrow at the museum, located at Constitution Avenue and 14 Street.

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