Tree Festival Revenues Help Young Hospital Patients

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    By Jaclyn Hicken

    In the past 36 years, 11,000 Christmas trees, 9 million lights, 2 million visitors, 335,000 scones and 47,000 pounds of fudge have made the Festival of Trees a Utah tradition that is being continued this week at the South Town Exposition Center in Sandy.

    The festival was first organized in 1971 as a fundraiser for Primary Children”s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. The hospital serves Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Montana and Wyoming and ranks as one of the top 10 children”s hospitals in the U.S.

    Inspired by a small boutique in Hawaii with tabletop trees for sale, the original organizers decided to collect and auction off Christmas trees back in Utah. The first Festival had 60 trees and a sweets shop and raised $47,000. Since then the festival has expanded to include more than 240,000 square feet of displays. Festival revenues last year totalled more than $1.4 million.

    Each of the 700 trees in the yearly festival are decorated and donated by church groups, families, individuals, businesses, civic organizations and clubs. The trees are sold at an auction, and all the money raised is donated to Primary Children”s, helping the hospital care for children in need of treatment.

    The Festival of Trees is comprised mainly of large tree displays, but also includes donated wreath displays, gingerbread houses, door displays, small trees, centerpieces and collectibles and children”s playhouses. This year”s festival also features a gift shop, a boutique, a friendship tree, live entertainment, a Small Fry shop for a child”s budget and a Kids Korner with face painting, sand layering and bubbles. Santa Claus also makes a daily appearance at the festival in Santa Land.

    Christine Katsilas, an interior design teacher at Taylorsville High School, has been participating in the Festival with her students for the past 23 years. The students work together to design and decorate the trees, a process that requires extensive shopping, decorating and wiring ornaments onto the tree at the Festival. Despite the challenges that sometimes arise, Katsilas is glad her students have the opportunity to participate.

    “It”s best when the trees sell for a lot of money,” Katsilas said. “They raise a lot of money for Primary Children”s, and that”s the whole reason for doing this.”

    Visitors at the festival can peruse all its displays at the South Towne Exposition Center until Saturday. Many of the trees at the Festival have stories behind them, and trees are often dedicated to loved ones who were cared for at the hospital. Each tree at the festival is symbolic of the community”s commitment to providing a better life for thousands of needy children, said Sharon Smith, festival publicity co-chair.

    “This festival is successful because the community values children,” Smith said. “This was the first such festival in the United States and Canada, and it has been copied all over, but nobody has been as successful, and it”s because of the community here.”

    “No matter how often you attend the Festival of Trees, it is different every year,” festival chairwoman Edyth Hansen said in a news release. “What remains the same year after year is the magic you feel at the festival and the gift of love that is given to the children at the hospital”

    The festival is open through Saturday, (Dec. 2, 2006) from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are $4 for adults and $2.50 for children at the door. Discount tickets are also available at all Zions Bank locations in Utah.

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