No matter your age, something about the Festival of Trees brings out the child in everyone. The trees with colorful decorations, the twinkling lights, the aroma of fresh-baked cookies, the elves and whimsical characters all draw visitors into a fantasy world — one where dreams come alive.
With the theme “Wishes Come True,” the 17th annual Festival of Trees opens to the public Saturday and continues through Thursday, Nov. 21, at the David S. Palmer Arena. It’s presented by Presence United Samaritans Medical Center’s Foundation.
The highlight is the exhibition of more than 100 trees following the theme of “Wishes Come True,” sponsored by local businesses and trimmed by volunteers. Many other features are offered, including the Junior Parade of Trees, the Elfin Evergreens and Gingerbread Village, the children’s craft area, the Holiday Café, Gingerbread Bakery, the I Sing the Body Electric Showcase, entertainment, raffles and a Senior Hospitality Area.
At the raffle house, one of the attractions is a tree house built by students in Wade Anderson’s building trades class at Georgetown-Ridge Farm High School. The 6-foot by 6-foot one-room rustic structure was made out of wood taken from old barns; the tin roof and decorative tree on front also were from old barns. It has working porch lights, red gingham curtains in the windows, a sycamore door handle, arched doorway to the fenced-in area below and other unique features.
Some wood comes from turn-of-the-century barns, Anderson said, while other planks are newer, from the 1940s and ‘50s.
The 15 or so students from all classes spent about a month and a half building it.
“It was just a chalk drawing on the ground,” sophomore Lucas Barham said. “It turned out better than I thought.”
Sophomore Tylon Mills agreed that the tree house turned out better than he expected.
“I think it’s very extraordinary,” junior Michael Chittick added.
Anderson and his students have been donating houses for raffle to the festival for about 12 years or so, he said. He started in the 1990s when he worked at VOTEC.
“Wade gives from the heart,” said Debbie Michenfelder, who’s in charge of the raffle house. “The contributions that he gave … his time and the kids … I can’t say enough about Wade and all he’s done.”
The students make some type of play house every year, but the design varies. “That’s what makes it kind of cool,” Anderson said. This was the first year for a tree house.
Michenfelder praised Anderson’s vision, saying, “I take an idea to him and he knows what he’s going to do. He makes it come true.”
In addition to learning about construction, the project teaches the students about recycling old material and the importance of volunteering, Anderson said, among other lessons.
“It’s great for the kids,” he said.
Anderson added that the school doesn’t pay for anything; the projects made by the students bring in enough money to pay for the materials. The classes build all kinds of items, including wooden snowmen, chairs and patio furniture. Anyone with a request may call the school.
Tickets for the tree house are $5 each, with all the money going to Presence Foundation.
‘A great week’
As for the rest of the festival, event coordinator Angie Lazzell said, “It should be a great week.”
Last year, 15,473 people visited the festival — the highest number in its history, she said, adding, “That’s pretty good.”
She hopes the elf gathering — an attempt to set a world record on Sunday — will bring in more people this year.
One change this year is that the layout is flipped, with the stage on the west wall, for example, and the raffle area on the east side. Also, the wreaths will be on display closer to the stage instead of in the hallway.
Another difference this year, she said, is that the festival board is trying to engage a younger audience. Some of the organizers are younger, and that should bring a new perspective.
Some other changes are:
+ Rather than a stuffed animal tree, the traditional centerpiece of the arena will be a 22-foot tree made of donated books.
+ The revamped Festival Boutique will offer shoppers a new variety of gift items.
+ The Crystal Ball on Tuesday night moves to the main floor and takes the special event up a notch with a DJ, light show, and a Willy Wonka theme. Tickets are still available.
+ Festival After Hours. This adults-only event on Wednesday features food, beer, and wine sampling, games, plus music and dancing with the Chicago Blackhawks Band. Tickets are $20 each and are available.
The festival will close earlier on Tuesday and Wednesday night in preparation for those two evening events on the arena floor.
The event kicks off with two exclusive, invitation-only events: a Sponsors Appreciation Party tonight, and the annual preview gala on Friday night.
Saturday is Children’s Day, with free building projects for the kids, while supplies last. Lazzell said, “Plus we’ll have fudge samples, glitter tattoos, glass-blowing demonstrations, and great entertainment.” David Chicken, a high-energy, Emmy-award winning family entertainer will bring his interactive show to the festival stage on Saturday at 1 and 5 pm.
Sunday is the traditional Family Day, with free admission for children, veterans and military personnel. It’s also “Pickle Day,” where families search to find the six hidden pickle ornaments for a chance to win one of six prizes. Plus, families can enjoy free Papa Murphy’s pizza, while supplies last, and enjoy a balloon artist from noon to 3 p.m.
Monday and Tuesday, hundreds of school-age children will take tours with their classrooms throughout the arena. New this year, students will be treated to the reading of a special story around the Book Tree, and each teacher will receive a copy of the featured book “Snowmen at Night” in their packet of treats to take back to the classroom.
Wednesday is the day for the second annual Silver Bells bingo, a special ticketed event for guests 55 and older that includes brunch this year. Tickets are available.
The last day of the Festival will be Thursday, Nov. 21, in conjunction with the Night of Lights parade in Downtown Danville at 6:30 p.m., sponsored by Meijer. After the parade, all the floats will end at the arena, where guests can enjoy free hot chocolate. The successful food drive from last year returns, and, with a donation of a non-perishable food item; admission to the festival is free until 9 p.m.
The doors open at 3 p.m. on Thursday.
Some special ticketed events that are sold out are: Saturday’s Polar Express, the Ladies Luncheon, both seatings of the Princess Tea Party, and the Children’s Holiday Breakfast. All other special events still have ticket availability.
Saturday — 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday — Noon to 8 p.m.
Monday — 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Tuesday and Wednesday —9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closes early for special event)
Thursday, Nov. 21 — 3-9 p.m. Admission is free with a non-perishable food donation.
General admission tickets throughout the festival are $5 for adults, $3 for seniors 55 and older, $2 for children 3-12, and free for ages 2 and under. A Family Fun Pak of 15 admission tickets, good for any day, is $30. Tickets are available at the arena box office, by phone at (877) 77C-LICK, or online via www.presencehealth.org/festivaloftrees.
The 2013 Festival of Trees platinum sponsor is the Julius W. Hegeler II Foundation. Proceeds from the Festival of Trees benefits outreach programs of Presence United Samaritans Medical Center’s Foundation, such as I Sing the Body Electric, the HALO Project, Faith in Action, and Young Women/Men Aware.