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Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Sun-Times
18 Nov 2023
https://chicago.suntimes.com/authors/selena-fragassi-for-the-sun-times


NextImg:Chance the Rapper rings in the holidays at Museum of Science and Industry tree lighting

The holidays have officially arrived in Chicago.

A busy weekend of events to kick off the season included the ceremonial lighting of the Grand Tree at the Museum of Science and Industry on Saturday morning, opening the institution’s long-running “Christmas Around the World” and “Holidays of Light” exhibits.

This year’s special guest to flip the switch was Chicago’s own Chance the Rapper, who was joined by the world-famous Santa Larry to greet families that filled the Hyde Park museum’s rotunda.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a shorty,” the Grammy Award-winning rapper remarked before leading the excited crowd in a countdown to illuminate the majestic four-story spruce at the center of it all.

A Christmas tree is lit after a tree lighting ceremony at the Museum of Science and Industry, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

A Christmas tree is lit after a tree lighting ceremony at the Museum of Science and Industry, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

During the appearance, Chance also announced that his youth empowerment organization SocialWorks will be hosting its 5th annual “A Night at the Museum” event at MSI on Dec. 21, a family-focused outing with interactive activities, free food, gifts and special guests.

“Kids get to experience the museum in a way they don’t typically get to, and it’s a good time for families to connect,” Chance told the Sun-Times after the lighting ceremony.

Now through Dec. 21, MSI visitors can find the special SocialWorks tree on display as part of the “Christmas Around the World” attraction and scan a QR code to buy tickets (or visit socialworkschi.org). General admission is $15 and the charity is asking for donations of gently used or new toys and winter gear as part of its Warmest Winter initiative.

Though Chance didn’t perform any songs, the rapper hinted to the Sun-Times that holiday programming may soon be coming to the Ramova Theatre in Bridgeport. Earlier this week, he and fellow locals Quincy Jones and Jennifer Hudson were named as co-owners behind the historic venue’s renovation and reopening.

“There’s a couple concerts coming up. I don’t think I’m supposed to say who’s playing but there’s a couple things planned,” the rapper shared, adding they hope to be open by the end of November.

Chance the Rapper speaks to the press after a tree lighting ceremony at the Museum of Science and Industry, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

Chance the Rapper speaks to the press after a tree lighting ceremony at the Museum of Science and Industry, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

As for his own holiday traditions, Chance said he plans to spend time with his family and possibly visit Navy Pier (the venue’s annual holiday experience has been one of his favorite local traditions).

Then it’s time for the West Chatham native — born Chancelor Bennett — to get back to work in early 2024. In addition to rejoining “The Voice” as a judge for the NBC talent show, Chance will be finalizing his new album, “Star Line Gallery. He told the Sun-Times “it’s coming out next fall and I’m very excited for that.”

Before departing, Chance posed for photos with some families who were also waiting to get a snap with the other man of the hour, Santa Larry. Born Larry Jefferson, the recent inductee into the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame hails “from the North Pole by way of Dallas” and is notable for being the first Black Santa hired by the Mall of America in 2016.

Santa Larry, the Mall of America’s first Black Santa, takes pictures with Angela Massey, Jake Driskell and their son Lawrence Driskell after a tree lighting ceremony at the Museum of Science and Industry, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

Santa Larry, the Mall of America’s first Black Santa, takes pictures with Angela Massey, Jake Driskell and their son Lawrence Driskell after a tree lighting ceremony at the Museum of Science and Industry, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Santa Larry was a role the retired veteran first took on in 1999 while he was still enlisted in the U.S. Army, hoping to bring joy to those in homeless and women and family shelters.

“I never realized the impact I was having, but I have children all the time running up and saying, ‘Mom, Santa Claus looks like me!’” the self-proclaimed “Santa Claus for All” told the Sun-Times.

It’s not just kids, either, he said, recalling a 77-year-old woman who once paid a visit. “She told me, ‘All my life I wanted to see a Santa that looked like me and here you are.’ She was crying and she made Santa Claus cry too.”

MSI’s Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light exhibit is open through January 7, 2024, centered around the theme of “the science of snow.” It offers 57 decorated trees and illuminated displays that represent cultural traditions from across the globe. For more information, visit msichicago.org.

Santa Larry, the Mall of America’s first Black Santa, speaks during a tree lighting ceremony at the Museum of Science and Industry, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

Santa Larry, the Mall of America’s first Black Santa, speaks during a tree lighting ceremony at the Museum of Science and Industry, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times