How to Take Your Father to the Museum

The Christmas Tree

Take Your Father to the Museum 1

If you are lucky enough to be in New York City at Christmastime you know about Rockefeller Center, the Tiffany & Co. window displays, and the illuminated trees on Park Avenue. But here's the best of it: Every year since 1957 the Met has displayed a collection of Baroque Neopolitan angels and creche figures around an enormous 20-foot Christmas tree, which is like nothing else in the city. It's astonishing, full of majesty and vivid detail. The figures are 18th-century, made in Naples at a time when wealthy families vied with each other for extravagance in their Christmas displays (the same thing goes on in Queens today, though I'm not sure the museum exists yet for the ornaments; it will). Equally beautiful is the architecture at the base of the tree, with models of Roman ruins for the manger. Some of my first awareness of architecture came from looking at this tree, and the modeling of the animals -- camels, sheep, and donkeys of fantastic beauty -- is as lovely as the people are. Kate was particularly fascinated with the Three Kings, one of whom sits astride a black horse rearing up in wonder at the moment of seeing the Christ child. You will know how he feels. As you take in this world of treasures, bathed in holy light, you might realize that for a child it's like being inside an 18th-century painting. It teaches kids how to relate that kind of imagery (the drapery, the frozen expressions) to reality. But mostly it's just beautiful and fun.

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