Step right up, ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, for Under the Big Top: Festival of Trees 2011. More than 100 dazzling, decorated holiday trees fill the galleries of Berkshire Museum with sparkling lights and circus fun. Each imaginative tree is creatively designed by community members young and old, all sponsored by businesses, organizations, community groups, schools, scout troops, and clubs.
This year’s circus theme harks back to a long-standing tradition of troupes of traveling performers. Acrobats and jugglers were popular among the ancient Egyptians and Chinese; they crisscrossed the Roman Empire, and traveling performers entertained crowds at fairs that sprang up across Europe throughout the Middle Ages. In fact, the concept of a “circus” is believed to have originated in Ancient Rome where an open-air oval stadium called Circus Maximus was used by traveling performers and acrobats with trained animals. By the mid-1880s the circus became a primary form of entertainment for the American public, especially for those who lived outside cities and large metropolitan areas. By 1900 there were more than one hundred circuses traveling around the country entertaining crowds of spectators.