(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — A team of volunteers are decorating trees and each themed room for the upcoming Festival of Trees.
This year will be the 38th year that AHN Saint Vincent has held a Festival of Trees. The event will be held 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 25; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 26; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 27, at the Bayfront Convention Center (1 Sassafras Pier) in Erie. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend the event this weekend.
“It is a community tradition. For generations, people have been coming to the Festival of Trees,” said Christine Bowen, executive director of development for St. Vincent. “It’s for the young and the young at heart.”
Already on Nov. 22, a team of more than 80 volunteers from Erie Insurance, AHN St. Vincent volunteers, and Bayfront Convention Center staff were hanging decorations throughout the entire convention center and moving trees to the hallways, each room, and many to the Grand Ballroom. Those volunteers are key to the event’s success, Bowen suggested.
“They are making Christmas happen. It wouldn’t be the same without them,” Bowen said. “They make the magic happen.
Cathy Swartzfager of Greenfield Township has been volunteering to set up the event through her employer, Erie Insurance, for six years now. She’s been with the event “pre-COVID, during COVID, and post-COVID,” she said.
“I got to do the outside thing during COVID where we drove around,” Swartzfager said. “The gnome trees were pretty cool.”
Swartzfager and a handful of other volunteers were busy at work in Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen — a themed room during the event. The room had not yet come completely to life, but there were plenty of signs of what it was sure to become by Friday morning.
“I love the magic,” she said. “I love to see these halls transformed, and I love to see children’s faces when they come to see it, view it, and experience it.
“Tomorrow when we put all the finishing touches on everything, I can walk around room to room in awe. It’s sad that it’s only one weekend.”
During the festival, trees are decorated by local artists. Guests peruse the gallery and then vote for their favorite. The winning tree will be announced on Monday, Nov. 28. An auction then will be held, and people can bid to buy their favorite tree. The public also can bid online.
On Nov. 22, Sharon Niemi was busy decorating a tree for the Barber National Institute. It is her second year decorating a tree for Festival of Trees. And while she hasn’t had more than a couple of years with the event, she has a long history with AHN St. Vincent.
“I was a critical care nurse for years at St. Vincent. I have an allegiance to it,” Niemi said. “My niece and her friend put up a beautiful Christmas tree, so I volunteered to decorate it, and I’m happy to do it.”
According to Niemi, the traits of a good Christmas tree are lots of lights, an attention to detail, ribbons, bows and tinsel. For their tree, Niemi was given a color scheme to work with. The tree’s pole (what would be a trunk on a natural tree) is wrapped in purple, and the boughs are aglow with white lights.
“I am big into Christmas. My father was always big into Christmas, and I have always carried that tradition on,” Niemi said.
By Friday, a team of about 250 volunteers from local high schools, local colleges and local families will work to ensure the event runs smoothly.
The Festival of Trees is more than professionally decorated Christmas trees. Each day from noon to 5 p.m., live reindeer will be on hand. There will be live local entertainment, vendors, a “teddy bear clinic” where stuffed toys can be examined by AHN Saint Vincent Hospital’s “team of teddy bear specialists,” Santa Claus, face painting (for a fee), $2 train rides, and a basket raffle.
Admission is $10 for people 12 and older, $6 for children 12 and younger, and free for children 12 months or younger. Festival tickets will be available at the door.