Science meets religion at planetarium show

“The nights are long and the stars burn cold and bright.”


So begins ’Tis the Season, a longtime holiday favorite of the The DuPont Planetarium at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

The popular planetarium show travels from sacred to secular, ancient to modern, to explain how customs of yore are woven throughout today’s celebrations.

Why do we celebrate the birth of Jesus in December? What was the Star of Bethlehem anyhow?

Why do we place candles in windows, “deck the halls” or perform any number of other Christmas traditions?

Traversing a wide swath of history that includes Celtic tribes, Hopi Indians, early Christians, Romans, Egyptians and Jews, ’Tis the Season explains the many religious and cultural customs practiced during the time of winter solstice.

“It has become quite a holiday favorite for many people in the CSRA,” said Gary Senn, the director of the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

The 45-seat planetarium, with its 30-foot reflective aluminum dome, opened in 1995. ’Tis the Season was an early staple of the planetarium lineup.

“It’s one of the first shows we got,” said Darlene Smalley, the program director at the DuPont Planetarium. “We’ve been doing it for at least 15 years. It’s timeless.”

There’s simulated snow fall, complete with Christmas carols and readings from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

The show is narrated by Noah Adams, former co-host of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

“It blends several traditions – history, science, religion – into one program,” Smalley said. “It’s a great show for this time of year.”

’Tis the Season includes a brief history of Hanukkah and the origins of Santa Claus, the 12 Days of Christmas and gift giving.

“It’s all about having fun, learning and getting kids excited about learning,” she said. “It’s all about the holiday season and a very meaningful symbol of the season: The star of Bethlehem, that very special star, the star that led the wise men to find Jesus.”

The planetarium show puts forth several theories: Was it a comet? An exploding star? A planetary conjunction?

’Tis the Season offers a few theories but fewer conclusions.

In the end, Smalley said, “The most important thing, as they say in the show, isn’t what it was, but why it was.”


WHAT: An all-ages planetarium show about the religious and cultural traditions of the holiday season

WHEN: 6, 7 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22 and Saturday, Dec. 29

WHERE: DuPont Planetarium at the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center on the campus of University of South Carolina Aiken, 471 University Parkway, Aiken

COST: $4.50 for adults; $3.50 for senior citizens, $2.50 for grades 12 and younger; $1 for USCA students and staff