'O Christmas Tree': Festival Ushers in Sandhills Holiday Season
A sparkling weekend-long Festival of Trees ushers in the region's holiday season with glitter and excitement Nov. 13-16.
Presented at the Carolina Hotel by the Sandhills Children's Center, this is the 12th year for the fundraiser that has developed into a superb tradition, each year becoming more splendid and each year providing thousands of dollars for a remarkable organization focused on caring for children.
Molli Beeson is this year's chairperson of the event that has won a well-deserved reputation for its elegance and holiday glamour throughout the Southeast. Assisting her is the chairperson emeritus Lynn Melton and a gifted and dedicated planning committee numbering 30 enthusiastic women.
First introduced to the Children's Center as a volunteer through the Junior League, Beeson helped out in the classrooms, entertained the younger children and "loved every minute of it."
The Sandhills Children's Center is a private, nonprofit day school for young children ages birth through five with (or without) a variety of developmental disabilities, including cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, and vision, speech, and hearing impairments.
The Festival of Trees is a dazzling wonderland of over 200 holiday items -- decorated trees of all sizes from tiny table-top trees to the magnificent seven-foot variety, wreaths, gift baskets, garlands, stunning vignettes and a fabulous gingerbread village. This year, the Center has added two additional categories -- table skirts and centerpieces -- for the area merchants, individuals and organizations who annually become the creative decorators and designers for the Festival.
Lynn Melton says the designers of the tree skirts have chosen their own materials and patterns -- some are embroidered, quilted or handpainted. The centerpieces run the gamut from whimsical to elegant in containers such as a miniature sleigh, a crystal bowl or an unusual urn, and incorporate silk flowers or natural materials and whatever imaginative accessories the designer chooses.
The trees, wreaths and the evergreen sprays are purchased by the Center, and the volunteer designers pick them up and transform them into magical presentations. Many of the decorators/designers contribute their talents year after year, and the arrangements are often elaborate, accompanied by gifts and other keepsakes.
One of the impressive trees this year is the work of Lisa Youngclaus, Jacquie Abell and Mary Dyer.
Youngclaus, who is a former chair of the Festival, says the theme of their seven-foot silver tree is "Christmas Then and Now."
"It is a compilation of donations from Wisteria, an online catalog of antiques and decorative items for home and garden and an electronics package provided by The Milk Jug -- a charitable golf tournament and the brainchild of David Abell that raises money for children's charities," she says.
Trimmed with nostalgic and old-fashioned decorations, including hand blown glass ornaments, the handsome tree is skirted with sequined white silk. An antique mirrored chest and a vintage chair enhance the setting. Accompanying the display is a selection of games from Microsoft, such as X Box 360, an MP3 player and a DVD player, as well as a flat screen television set.
The works of North Carolina artists are showcased with Artist Alley's two ornate trees. Surrounding a glittering seven-foot tree trimmed in copper and gold are paintings by such well-known local artists as Fay Terry and Kathleen Miller, and one by Blue Dog artist Rachelle Currie. Complementing the imaginative display is a pottery piece by Suzanne Rehbock and a delicately designed framed mirror created by Mara Fiskins.
A smaller version of the large golden tree is encircled by a tasteful display of art jewelry, comprised of a set of shining sterling silver earrings and matching bracelet, an unusual turquoise piece, a chic evening bag, a bracelet and earring set of glass beads, and striking copper jewelry that is the creation of Artist Alley owner Jean Skipper.
Julie Moore has been designing items for the Festival on behalf of the Episcopal Day School for four years. Starting out with a small table-top tree, and then moving on to a 4 1/2 foot tree, and a 38-inch wreath, this year the school's contribution to the festival is a 4 1/2 foot Santa tree and a companion smaller Elf tree. Trimmed with red ornaments supplied by students, the Santa tree is a replica of Jolly Old Saint Nick, complete with his hat on the top-most branches, his beard and glasses and his wide black belt, all embellished by tiny white lights. The Elf tree sports a typical elfin hat and the distinctive pointy toed shoes.
The students at the Episcopal Day School are excited to be a part of the Festival of Trees, Moore notes. "The feeling of sharing with other children makes the holiday season more meaningful for them," she says. "It's a thoughtful indication of children giving to other children."
The variety of the vignettes that are created for the Festival always bring surprises. Who, for instance, will end up being the proud owner of a Kid's Dream House that is the eye-catching treasure at this year's Festival of Trees? Donated and designed by Weichert Realtors Larose & Company and co-sponsored by eight local firms and two couples, the attractive playhouse was built by Bill Pattan Construction, and has solid cherry wood flooring with bead board accents.
According to Cathy Larose, the firm and her family have been huge supporters of the Children's Center for the past several years.
"We think they do such a marvelous job, and this is our way of thanking them for all they do for the community," she says.
Another longtime supporter of the Children's Center is a motorcycle club, the Wingmen of Moore County, whose donation this year consists of two miniature "choppers." One is a child-size replica of the Indian "chopper" introduced in the 1940s, and the other is a child-sized electric "chopper."
Among the other inspired vignettes on display and also up for bidding in the silent auction are a wine rack and a selection of wines together with a chef who will put on a wine tasting for you and your guests; a beautiful outdoorscape, including table and chairs and dinnerware; and a splendid vignette from Pinehurst Resorts created around the theme, The Four Seasons of Pinehurst.
Last year's popular Raffle Shop is making a return to the Festival of Trees this year.
"It's heart-warming to see the interaction between the parents and their children who become a real part of the decision-making process as they figure out how many tickets to buy to help the youngsters of the Children's Center," says Molli Beeson. She and Lynn Melton agree that the women on the committee in charge of the Raffle Shop have outdone themselves in stocking the shop with great gifts.
The community has supported the concept as well, donating items such as: a 50-inch plasma TV from Sears of Aberdeen; a kayak from River Jack Trading Company, a Nintendo Wi from Roland and Yauger; an iPhone from Moore County Phone Book; and an electric guitar from Billy's Music World. These and 10 additional items will be raffled off, with tickets priced at 1 ticket for $5; 5 tickets for $20; 20 tickets for $50 and 50 tickets for $100.
All the bidding this year for the trees, greenery, vignettes and the gingerbread village will be done by silent auction. And a Buy It Now system will be in place from the opening of the Festival with each item marked with a "Buy It Now" price. This will allow the attendees at the Festival to purchase the item at the stated price and effectively terminate the silent auction bidding. All items must remain on site until the close of the Festival.
Instead of the live auction for special items that was a tradition at the Saturday night gala, a "Sponsor A Child" program will be the beneficiary. After the showing of a video on the work of the Children's Center, an auctioneer will raise funds for sponsoring a child. The bidding will be preset at specific increments, and when the "auction" is completed, the total raised will benefit the Sponsor A Child program
Kathy Desmond, director of development for the Center, points out that the Center is delighted to return to the Carolina Hotel this year.
"We are also very pleased to welcome back Time Warner Cable as a partner in the presentation of the Festival," says Desmond. "In addition to placement of television commercials and its commitment of support, the company also supplied a clever assortment of items representing the different channels carried on the system to decorate one of the large trees.
"And the staff of the Carolina Hotel has been unstinting in their efforts to enhance the Festival. They even adjusted their schedule of decorating for the holidays to coincide with our dates, and they upgraded the lighting and other features of the Exhibit Hall, making it into a beautiful setting for the Festival."
In addition, it should be noted that the Carolina Hotel is offering a special Festival of Trees rate for overnight guests during the five-day event. And they are offering a noon buffet luncheon for those people attending the event on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, available by reservation.
Festival of Trees sponsorships in varying amounts have been provided over the course of the last 12 years by many generous individual and corporate donors. The top two levels of sponsorship make it possible for the Children's Center to select special needs children to be recognized as Honorary Tree Children, and the trees in this special section bring to life the work of the Center.
The children are randomly chosen and volunteers decorate each honorary tree by incorporating into the ornamentation items representing the child's own story. At the close of the Festival the tree is given to the child's family to enjoy during the holidays.
Despite the economic downturn, the Children's Center is optimistic about meeting the goal set for this year's Festival.
"If anything, people seem to want to do more for us this year," says Desmond. "We have substantially added to the number of items in the Festival, and the number of sponsors has also grown. This is a good sign, because we have increased the amount to be raised, not only to fund the growth of the Center at the new Rockingham campus, but also to close the gap occasioned by the ever-increasing cuts in funding at the state level. We are very grateful for the outpouring of community support, and invite everyone to attend a brighter-than-ever 2008 Festival of Trees."
For information and reservations for the premiere party and the Cherish the Child Gala, call 692-3323.
Contact Pinehurst freelance writer Mary Elle Hunter at email@example.com.
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