It always seems a little odd to be decorating Christmas trees the day after Halloween. Kids still have their stash of trick-or-treat candy sorted into piles, and the costumes aren’t put away yet.
But for the last 23 years, that’s what supporters of the Hands On! Regional Museum have done as they prepare for the Festival of Trees. Twenty to 30 artificial trees and wreaths are decorated by individuals and businesses and then put on display at Hands On! for two weeks. The festival culminates in the Night of Lights Gala, set for 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, when the decorated trees are auctioned off during a night of live music, dancing, food and festivities.
The gala is the No. 1 fundraiser for Hands On! and raises $50,000 or more each year.
“All proceeds benefit our programs and exhibits, and help keep our admission cost down,” said Kristine Amerine Carter, marketing and membership manager at Hands On. The museum sees 70,000-plus visitors each year.
In order to get things ready in time, volunteer decorators must have their trees ready well before most even people think about putting up a Christmas tree.
“It’s kind of a tradition for a lot of people to decorate their tree the day after Thanksgiving,” Carter said. “So we try to have our gala on the weekend before Thanksgiving in order for people who buy the trees in the auction to have them by that time.
“People like to see different designs. We hope they see something they like and come to the gala and buy it. Most of these trees are smaller and might not be your main tree, but they could help you decorate other rooms in your house. A lot of businesses buy these, too.”
The trees went on display Nov. 2 and will be up for public viewing through Tuesday. People can see the trees when paying regular admission to the museum.
This year’s Night of Lights theme is “Christmas in Candyland,” and while tree designers weren’t required to use that as a theme, many of them did. Quite a few of the trees contain an array of candy canes and peppermint stripes.
About 20 designers contributed 28 trees, wreaths and candelabras. The Posy Shop is a regular contributor to the festival and did six trees and wreaths this year.
The GFWC Johnson City Junior Monday Club contributed a tree and a wreath. The club has volunteered its time and decorations since the Festival of Trees began, and in fact was instrumental in getting the event started. They also provide coat check services at the gala, something they’ve done for 11 years, and all tips go to the museum.
“We have fun with the decorating and usually try to go with the theme they have,” club president Ruth Van Sickle said. “Our tree has actual candy on it so people can eat this stuff. We wire on all the ornaments so the tree is basically ready to carry out and set up wherever people want to use it. They can reuse it like it is or take it apart and do things differently.”
Kate Strickland and her mom, Diana Mozen, each contributed a tree. They graced Kate’s tree with hanging silver crosses originally from Tiffany’s that had been in the family for generations but were lost in the shuffle.
“We used those because we just wanted to do something special for the museum,” Kate said. “I have a 4-year-old and we come here so often.”
Diana said of her granddaughter: “She loves Hands On. When she wants to come here, she says, ‘Can we go to MY museum?’ ”
The festival culminates with Friday’s gala at the museum. Tickets are $100 each. The gala will offer a wide array of greenery and other items for both a silent auction and voice auction, including artwork, health and beauty items, massages, fitness packages, trips, dinners and race packages. About 100 items will be auctioned off.
A gourmet dinner will be catered by Main Street Cafe & Catering. The band Spank will provide music.
A full house of 250 to 275 people is expected, organizers said. For tickets, call the museum at 434-4263.
“People in the community are excited,” said Hands On! executive director Ginna Kennedy. “Leading up to this, a lot of people ask me ‘When is the gala? When are the trees going up?’ They are really looking forward to it.
“We like to think this is the big kickoff to the holiday season.”
Doug Janz is a Tempo writer for the Johnson City Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.