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The end of a tree-dition; Annual festival takes a 'bough'| Kitsap Week
One year, her tree had a sleigh theme. Another year, it was decorated with vintage-looking dolls. This year’s theme is “Cooking with Claus” and features gingerbread.
For each of the last 24 years, Sandra Carlson has decorated a Christmas tree, each with its own unique theme, for the Festival of Trees. So she wasn’t about to miss the 25th and final event.
“It’s very sad,” the retired librarian said. “I’ve known [about the finale] for almost a year.
By the time this year’s festival comes around, most of my grieving will be done.”
After this weekend’s festivities, Harrison Medical Center Foundation is bowing out of the annual fundraiser where decorated trees are auctioned off to raise money for the foundation.
Foundation director Stephanie Cline cited many reasons why the event is coming to an end.
“When you approach a significant milestone, it’s always an opportunity to stand back and consider, ‘Where does this fit in?’, ” Cline said. “In the case of Festival of Trees, it’s a wonderful event and people love it, but there has been some trending we have watched for a couple of years.”
For one, people’s auction habits have changed and they are less likely to buy “stuff.” While items such as unique experiences or trips still pull in premium amounts at the auction, the trees themselves don’t always obtain as high an amount as they did in the past.
The lower bids could partially be blamed on the switch to using artificial trees — once you buy one, you have one. How many Christmas trees does one need? In the past, festival designers used live preserved trees but over the years the artificial tree product became a better choice because it allowed designers more freedom and time to create.
In addition to a lower dollar amount for the trees, there has been a decline in festival attendance numbers the past five or six years. Cline said it will be interesting to see how many people attend this year’s finale.
“The decision to celebrate 25 years and then back away from the festival is part of a larger strategic plan of the foundation,” Cline said. “We are broadening our scope on how we raise money.”
Long-time foundation board member Ralph Lintz, came up with the idea for a Festival of Trees after visiting relatives in Portland.
His aunt and uncle had purchased a beautiful circus motif tree at a hospital fundraiser and Lintz knew a similar event in Kitsap could generate a great deal of money for the hospital’s foundation.
Over the years, the festival has raised around $3 million. Money obtained at this final event will go toward refurbishing the intensive care unit’s waiting room.
Cline said one thing she will miss about the Festival of Trees is the chance to hear personal stories of how Harrison Medical Center has touched the lives of Kitsap families. The festival provides an ideal time for the foundation to interact with the community.
Superb hospital care for her father was one of the driving forces behind Carlson’s initial interest in the Festival of Trees.
“My father had been in and out of Harrison for over a year,” she said. “They provided my father with excellent care and everyone — from the surgeons to the people cleaning the floors — went out of their way to make us feel comfortable.”
Thirty trees will be on display at this year’s festival. All will be auctioned off either in a live auction or an online auction. Tree themes this year range from a New York-inspired tree, complete with a trip to the Big Apple, to an “Under the Stars” tree which contains 25 crystals, one for each year of the festival. The larger trees include objects under the tree as well, such as furniture, toys, wine and more.
Carlson said she likes for her theme ideas to float to the surface, similar to a Crazy 8 ball.
“Sometimes I feel desperate if I don’t have the theme for next year’s tree at the end of the festival,” she said. Carlson estimates that she spends more than 150 hours each year on her tree. And over the years, she’s learned how to create a “decorator tree,” as opposed to a “home tree.” The difference is, with a home tree, you put all your favorite ornaments on it and it doesn’t matter if a lot of green is showing. With a decorator tree, you want the colors to match and have one or two dominate colors. Decorator trees tend to be fuller with lots of glitz.
On two occasions, Carlson bought back her tree at the auction.
“As it often happens, when I put a lot of energy into something, I tend to put a lot of emotional energy into it as well,” she said. “I just had to buy those trees back.”
Cline acknowledges the last Festival of Trees will be bittersweet. It has served as a holiday tradition for many families.
“All things come to an end, even really good things,” she said. “Twenty-five years is a long time to have been doing the same thing over and over and over again.”
Although she’s sad about this festival ending, Carlson said she is not completely devastated. The reason?
“I know I’d feel quite bereft if my sister and I weren’t planning on starting a hospital guild that will incorporate mini-trees,” she said. Their guild is in the early planning stages but Carlson is happy to continue the tradition of creating Christmas tress.
Cline said the Festival of Trees has been a tremendous outpouring of support from the community.
“The Pavilion is a very big place. When you stand in the middle of the room and realize not a thing got there without a donor or volunteer, it’s an awesome feeling.”
The 25th Annual Festival of Trees
Nov. 26: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Nov. 27: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
At the Kitsap Pavilion, 1200 NW Fairgrounds Road, Bremerton.
General admission: $5. Seniors 60 and older and children 12 and younger get in free of charge.
General admission includes children’s activities, holiday entertainment and shopping. Friday’s Gala Tree Party and Auction and Saturday’s Santa Breakfast are an extra charge; tickets can be purchased at www.harrisonfoundation.org.
The Violet E. Carlson Memorial Guild will continue to keep the Festival of Trees spirit alive by using mini-trees as the driver for fundraising activities of the guild. Informational meeting: Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. at Harrison Annex Meeting Room, east Bremerton. Info: Sandra Carlson, (360) 377-1988.