Christmas trees brighten up BESC

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By Jennifer Garcia

For most people, the holiday season officially begins on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, but for Los Alamos residents, the holiday season starts a bit earlier during the second week of November. 

The Festival of Chocolate, on Nov. 12, will kick off the Festival of Trees, an event that has become popular with locals. This year will mark the 8th Annual Festival of Trees, a time during which the public can bid on fully-decorated trees during a silent auction at the Betty Ehart Senior Center. 

The Festival of Trees will be from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 19 at the BESC and will feature entertainment by classical guitarist Greg Schneider and pianist Pat Reich.

So far, BESC Executive Director Pauline Schneider said she has a commitment for about 40 trees, but expects that more will come in as the festival draws closer. Some businesses donate trees, but most are donated by individuals. 

Schneider is coordinating the event this year with Bernadette Lauritzen. Lauritzen worked on the event in previous years when she was with the Community Health Council. She is in the process of starting her own nonprofit organization, Champions of Youth Ambitions, or C’YA. Roughly half the proceeds from the festivals go to benefit senior services, while the remainder will go to C’YA, once the 501c3 paperwork is received.

In fact, Lauritzen recalls helping Schneider with the first Festival of Trees eight years ago.

“When we started, it was just me and Pauline and our husbands in my living room,” Lauritzen said. “We only had five trees (for auction that year).”

Lauritzen said the Festival of Chocolate was later added to make it a weeklong event. The two festivals have grown significantly over the past several years and have become somewhat of a Los Alamos tradition.

As always, there will be a variety of trees to bid on. Some regular donors are once again slated to donate trees. Lauritzen said those regulars include the Summit Garden Club and Linda Hull, who have donated trees since the inception of the festival.

In addition, Schneider said Louise Hassman is also a regular donor.

“She shops for trees and decorations throughout the year and throughout the country,” Schneider said. “Kay Burick is also a big contributor of trees.”

Area businesses like Aspen Ridge Assisted Living Facility and Sombrillo Nursing and Rehabilitation Center also donate to the auction. This year, another assisted living facility, Fairwinds in Rio Rancho, is interested in contributing a tree.

In addition to the silent auction, the Festival of Trees will feature craft vendors offering everything from jewelry, sheepskin hats, baby products and candles to ristras, baked goods, embroidery, purses and stained glass art. As in past years, Santa Claus will also be on hand to visit with and take photos with festival-goers.

Schneider said she would love for local businesses to “come in and shop for holiday décor.”

The event will also kick off Be a Santa for a Senior. The program is a partnership between the BESC and Home Instead as a way to provide seniors who don’t have family, or those with limited resources, with gifts for Christmas.

Lauritzen said the best part about the festivals is the intergenerational aspect of the events. 

“There’s a lot of families that don’t have grandparents and some people don’t have grandchildren,” she said. “Even if they don’t know each other, just to be in the same venue is neat.”

Schneider described the Festival of Trees as magical. “It’s so beautiful,” she said. “… All the creativity that people put into the trees they donate … It’s great to see people of all ages come in. Their jaws drop (when they see the trees). They say it’s magical.” 

There is no admission fee for the Festival of Trees, however a nonperishable item donation will be accepted in lieu of a monetary fee. The items will be donated to area schools to help provide lunches for students in need.

 “It’s going to be wonderful,” Schneider said of the festival. “There will be plenty for the community to enjoy.”