There are many great things to do in Pittsburgh, and one of my favorites is exploring the Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning. While I’d visited them previously in the past, until recently, I’d never seen them during the holiday season.
The Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus are a collection of 31 classrooms that are designed to represent 31 different cultures from around the world that were impactful in the history of the city.
(Note: Tours of the Nationality Rooms have been suspended until further notice. A virtual open house has been scheduled for December 5-12, 2021. Information regarding the open house and can be found here.)
While they are interesting to visit anytime throughout the year, exploring them at Christmastime offers a unique opportunity to learn how cultures around the world celebrate the holiday season.
From mid-November through mid-January, many of these rooms are adorned for the holiday season in decorations that are typical for the country and culture that the classroom represents. This gives you the chance to learn a bit more about how countries from around the world celebrate the holiday season without having to leave Pittsburgh.
The Nationality Rooms are located on two different floors, with roughly half of them on the first floor and the other half on the third floor of the building. Those on the first floor are the oldest rooms and tend to have more decorations during Christmastime.
That being said, don’t expect elaborate decorations. The decorations here are typically somewhat subtle, but really do give you a great sense of how many of the represented countries celebrate the season. In fact, my favorite reason to visit is simply to compare and contrast how different cultures celebrate.
One thing I loved is that even a few of the countries that don’t typically celebrate Christmas had some decorations. One great example is the Chinese room that is decorated for the Chinese New Year, which is celebrated sometime between late January and late February each year.
While I didn’t see a sign in every room, some rooms also contained some signage that offered a bit of an overview of the decorations in the room and their holiday traditions. Of course, you can also rent a headset for the rooms on the first floor and utilize buttons in the third-floor rooms which offer a bit of history about the room and its significance.
It’s also worth noting that the Cathedral of Learning is an active university building and the Nationality Rooms are frequently used for classes. Therefore, if you visit on a school day, you may find a good number of the rooms being used for classes or simply students studying in them.
Please be respectful of the learning environment and don’t go in any of the rooms that are being used.
On the other hand, if you visit on a weekend, the classrooms are not in use and you can visit them more easily. However, many of the classrooms are locked, so you’ll have to purchase a self-guided tour to see the first-floor rooms.
Another great option is to visit during the Open House at the Cathedral of Learning. Held on a Sunday in early December, this event features cultural performances and the chance to see each of the rooms with their holiday decorations.
If you want to visit when the rooms are at their most quiet, consider visiting over the University of Pittsburgh’s winter vacation. Just note that the Nationality Rooms have limited hours and many days require a guided tour to see the rooms.
Nevertheless, if you want to experience many of the rooms and to have a personal guide, this can be a great time to visit.
No matter when you visit, however, Christmas at the Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning offers a great opportunity to experience how many different cultures around the world celebrate Christmas and the holiday season.
A full schedule of the operating hours during winter vacation, as well as information on when the holiday decorations are set up can be found on the university’s website.
(Note: In-person tours of the Nationality Rooms are suspended until further notice. A virtual open house will take the place of tours at this time.)