Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Holiday Celebrations in Museums

With Halloween and Veteran’s Day coming up, I began thinking about how American museums respond, or not, to various holidays.

In attempting to stay relevant to their visitors, should museums address holidays? If so, which ones? We certainly cannot expect every museum to celebrate every holiday. If the goal is to stay relevant, it follows that any museums wanting to recognize holidays must know the holidays their visitors observe. Here are some holidays museums might observe:

  • School holidays – vacations that whole cities or states have in common are often treated as holidays by museums. Many museums plan special events knowing that families will be looking for something to do. Just take a look at this partial list from a Boston vacation week last year to see some of the special offerings museums facilitated.
  • ‘National’ days – this is my term for all those days like ‘National Hot Dog Day,’ ‘National Donut Day,’ and ‘National Grandparents Day.’ It seems that almost every day of the year has something similar – and most of them are unknown – so there’s certainly no need for museums to celebrate any, much less all. But if one relates to the subject of a museum or item in its collections, it can be fun to do something as small as having a sale on a café item, a simple activity, or a social media post related to the special day.
  • Religious holidays – these can be tricky for museums, but not if the museum has clear ties to one, or more, religious traditions. This connection may be in a museum’s mission or the stories of a historic site.
  • Ethnic/cultural holidays – museums with strong ethnic ties can be counted on to celebrate the corresponding holidays with programs and events. Other museums, however, may choose to celebrate with a particular ethnic group in their community. For example, large history or art museums without individual ethnic ties may work with local community groups to host celebrations with that community.
  • Government holidays – these holidays are observed by most government offices and many additional organizations, including schools. Government-run museums are often closed on such holidays, but other museums might commemorate the day or welcome greater crowds.

As with any activity a museum sets out upon, the bottom line is a holiday’s connection to the museum’s collection and mission. If the holiday has no connection to either, any celebration may feel forced and irrelevant. Exceptions include collaborations with community groups. If a museum’s community celebrates certain days, museums can often serve as host sites or collaborators with these community groups, celebrating holidays that may or may not directly relate to their collections.

It’s also important to note the variety of ways museums celebrate – from admission discounts to elaborate events to social media posts. Along with choosing the holiday, museums must determine the appropriate way for their institution to celebrate.

How does your museum celebrate holidays?

1 Comment

  1. Hi Everyone,
    This is such an interesting topic in the world of membership and truly top of mind for me this week. Friday will mark the 10+ year of Fish, Fun, and Fright at the Aquarium. It has been a large event all these years exclusively for members and their guests. Now that other institutions like the Zoo and locations like the Lawn on D have join the crowded field of groups offering something spooky for families, we’ve started to see our attendance numbers drop.

    I personally feel like Halloween is a “safe” holiday to celebrate especially in New England. New this year we’ve added a Holiday event in December focused on our winter themed animals for members. We’ll see what the response is to that.

    I’m really interested to hear from others about their institutions and if holidays are celebrated as public events or saved for members/donors.

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