From the top of the tree that's topped by a globe to the bottom with boughs surrounded by history books, this year's tree at takes a trip around the world and through the ages.
It might sound like a big feat for one 17-foot-tall tree, faux tree, and in a way it is considering the work and hours that went into decorating the centerpiece now standing tall in South's Cleminson Hall, but this tree manages to tell the story of civilization from the closing of the ancient era of the Bronze and Iron Ages to the beginning of modern civilization.
In all the years that a Christmas tree has gone up in Cleminson Hall no one can remember there being anything hanging from it but red bows and red balls--a very traditional English Christmas tree.
That was before a flood this summer damaged the old tree and decorations. That led to a new thinking for a new tree--"that is relevant in modern times, that can educate and teach respect for other points of view," said Amy Graham, a Grosse Pointe Park mom who was inspired by her Wayne State University professor, Dr. Hans Hummer, also a South parent, to decorate a tree that had some depth.
Graham, a mother of five whose decorating theme was also inspired by the murals painted in Cleminson Hall, served as decorating chair of the South Mothers' Club. She and club president, Allison Baker, and Holiday Walk chair, Kim Tripp, worked with about 100 volunteers to bring about a better tree and larger Holiday Walk for 2011.
The tree is decorated with framed pictures of leading thinkers of the time, copper and glitter lyres to symbolize the music and poetry of the era and with leather-tied scrolls signifying works of great writers, doctors and such along with many other representations of parts of society and is just one part of a stepped-up Holiday Walk this year.
The takes place Sunday Dec. 4 from noon to 5. Ticket-holders take a tour of five decked-out homes in the Park, City and Farms, and for the first time South is being called the Holiday Hub as it will be a place to see the tree, of course, and also Cleminson Hall, an architectural gem on its own.
Besides the tree and hall, South will be the site of ticket sales and information and a host to 20-plus vendors for holiday shopping. There will also be a raffle for prizes, including a signed baseball by Tigers pitcher Jose Valverde. And food will be available.
"We have this fabulous historical building," said Tripp, chairperson of the 2011 Holiday Walk. "To add more value we wanted to make it a part of the walk, add the shopping, have a central place for tickets and information and offer food too. We've taken the holiday walk and really enhanced it and made it more of an event than just a tour of homes."
Tickets are $20 in advance--$15 for senior citizens--and can be purchased at in the Village, in the Woods and the school store at South or online through the mother's club website. Tickets can be purchased the day of the walk for $25.
Holiday Walk is a biennial fundraiser for South's Mothers' Club, a PTO equivalent that uses its proceeds to award scholarships, offer enrichment programs and projects to students and complete historical preservation of the campus. Two years ago the walk raised $15,000, Tripp said.
One home on the tour is a 2004-2005 project of Blaser Design, a platinum sponsor of the Holiday Walk. The 1942 Robert Wood colonial underwent an exceptional renovation and it is showcased in holiday decor. Other homes include a 1924 Park Colonial built for Olympic gold medalist divers Clarence and Betty Pinkston, a 100-year-old home in the Park, a condo in the City that brings great design into a small space.
Another first for this Holiday Walk was student involvement with the tree this year. Last week students attended lectures with Dr. Hummer, who used the tree and the ornaments and decorations hanging from it - Nile River grass, millet, poinsettia, pictures of Plato, Pythagorus and the terra cotta soldiers, to explain the changes that formed the civilization of today, from government, weapons and war to architecture, engineering, higher thinking, music, religion and more.
Graham likens the extreme extent of change that took place in the eras covered on the tree to the change modern society has seen in going from horse & buggies to Smartphones.
Hummer said it's been rewarding to teach a student who was so enthusiastic. "It's gratifying. You always wonder how much is getting through," he said.
And to know that the lessons broadened to include South students made it all the more meaningful.
"It might look like a jumble of ornaments and decorations, but once we start talking about it the meaning becomes clear," Hummer said.
Besides having the tree as a touchstone to history, Graham said her hope is that it will "teach not just tolerance of other points of view, but respect for all views."