The Festival of Trees lights up the holiday season

Festival of Trees lights up holiday season

Published: December 2, 2017

The Festival of Trees is a holiday event held by the Everson Museum of Art Member’s Council in Syracuse. Volunteers of all ages donate their decorated Christmas trees, wreaths and gift items to be displayed at the museum. Attendees have the opportunity to purchase their favorite trees. This is the festival’s 32nd year of operation and all ticket sales support the museum. Its theme is tradition.

New this year, Engaging Neighbors is an event dedicated to new members of the Syracuse community and the United States. The idea for the event comes from one of the Everson Museum’s missions: community engagement.

“The people we hope to come are the people immigrated here for some reasons, or refugees, that are a part of our community,” said Pattie Miller, chairperson of the museum’s Member Council for the Festival of Trees.

The member council had contacted local organizations that deal directly with refugees and different cultural groups such as Chinese, Bhutanese, Indian and Jewish communities. Some of these groups will provide entertainment. There will be an Indian Dance School performing traditional and Bollywood dances, a group of Bhutanese Hip-Hop dancers, some traditional Chinese entertainment and a Klezmer group playing traditional Jewish music.

“This isn’t about becoming a multi-cultural fair,” Miller said. “It is about communities coming together on one of the cold, dark December nights in Central New York’s significant cultural space, the Everson Museum, to enjoy each other.”

Another event held during the festival is the Teddy Bear Tea — a tea party with music and crafts for parents and children. Children can bring their favorite teddy bears for the parade following the tea.

“This year, they will parade in the Downtown Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Hotel. So, it will be a grand parade,” Miller said.

The tea was in the hotel every year until 2008. Now, it’s back for the second year.

“When I first was a docent, it was in that hotel. We were very happy to have it back into it,” Miller said. “I think it is the most special event in Syracuse.”

Train set at Festival of Trees

Each year, an average of 8,000 visitors come to the Festival of Trees. This includes young children and school groups. Many teachers participate by having students make decorations for the five-day event.

Miller said people get involved in the Festival of Trees, either as contributors or volunteers, based on an emotional connection.

She told the story of a creative young woman who has worked on the committee for years and creates trees each year. She loves to travel, which influences the themes of her trees. She has traveled to Ireland, New Hampshire, Vermont and Alaska. When she’s travelling, she always buys things that can be used on the tree.

“She had at some point gotten very ill and has to use a wheelchair, but she loves to do this festival, because her mother was very involved with the Everson,” Miller said. “She really thinks about a connection with her mother when doing something here.”

Miller said these connections that people feel to the festival and to the holiday itself are what keep them coming back.

“That’s the nature of it, the volunteers don’t get anything out of it, they don’t get any profit, but they are giving to the community,” Miller said. “People do it because they love it.”

Display at Festival of Trees

The Festival of Trees is a particularly time-consuming project, taking an entire year to prepare.

Ellen Hardy, who is responsible for arranging the festival donations, said that “the donated trees are all thematic trees, like travel, children, glass or ceramics.” Last year, there was a tree decorated in the theme of the Disney film “Frozen,” and another named “Who’s Your Santa?” that was loaded with dozens of Santa Claus ornaments.

There were between 100 and 125 trees, wreaths and unique displays that were sold during last year’s Festival of Trees. The Member Council sells at least 100 decorations a year, mainly trees, either 4- or 6-feet tall.

Miller noted that the festival had to downsize its decorations a bit in recent years to adapt to the changing trends in Christmas decorations.

“People generally aren’t buying large trees anymore. They are living more minimally and like less things in their house. It is really a reflection of change,” she said. “Most people seem to want under 4-foot trees, to put on their table top. So, they don’t want 6- or 8-foot Christmas trees, which was the tradition.”

Hardy said they will not see a downturn in sales as a failure, though.

“We are going to be very happy to have people really enjoy them,” she said.

Avatar for Chunzi Shi

is a contributor to The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.