The Festival of Trees

“A Gift of Love” that Spans 46 Years for Primary Children’s Hospital

Photos and story contributed by the Festival of Trees

The Festival of Trees has become a Utah tradition that guarantees to entertain you while you shop, satisfy a sweet tooth, and touch your heart. Open four days each year, this beloved holiday event is planned and orchestrated by volunteers who believe it’s never too early to think Christmas!

The Festival of Trees began in 1971 to raise funds for Primary Children’s Hospital. Over the years, this event has raised nearly $40 million to further the hospital’s mission of providing the best medical care to children throughout the Intermountain Area. It has become a tradition that inspires individuals, groups, businesses, and families to serve together for an important cause.

Many who volunteer for the Festival of Trees can be traced like a pedigree chart. Take example Lisa Egbert from Herriman, Utah. Lisa became involved because of her sister, Maridean, who knew Debbie Cartwright, who was a friend of Sharon Hunt, a Festival Executive Board Member serving in the Sweet Shoppe. What began as a four-hour volunteer shift has morphed into a four-day, all-day family affair! Lisa and her sisters, daughters, and sons work in the caramel apple corner of the Sweet Shoppe. They dip between 500-700 apples in caramel and then coat them with sprinkles, chocolate, and toffee chips. In addition, they slice and drizzle caramel over 2,500 apples. Lisa’s son, Joe, also serves as a Tree Doctor, helping decorators with lighting and decorating challenges.

Year after year Lisa’s family comes together at the Festival of Trees, working shoulder to shoulder for a cause that is dear to them. Lisa’s grandson was a patient at Primary Children’s Hospital. His passing was devastating. Serving others is a way to honor his memory while giving hope to other families whose children face catastrophic illnesses and injuries.

Michael Poe was a patient at Primary Children’s and benefitted from the hospital’s charity care program. For many years, his grandmother purchased trees and his aunt volunteered in the Festival’s Gift Boutique. Five years ago, his aunt recruited Michael and his mother, Ellen, and they have been pricing gifts and stocking shelves ever since. “I work physically harder the week of Festival than I work all year,” Michael said. “Yet, the time I give feels so satisfying. It’s my way of paying it forward – giving back for help given to me and my family.”

How did the Festival of Trees Begin?
The Festival of Trees began when 15 women from along the Wasatch Front were challenged to raise funds for Primary Children’s Hospital. Organized as the Women’s Endowment Committee and led by Betty Wells, the idea of selling decorated Christmas trees was inspired when Co-chair Ruth Flint attended a Christmas boutique in Hawaii. The group launched the first Festival of Trees in 1971 in the old Armory on Sunnyside Avenue. Featuring approximately 60 trees and a little boutique of handmade gift, candies and baked goods, the event raised and astounding $47,000!

How has the Festival Changed over the Years?
The Festival of Trees quickly outgrew the Armory and two years later it was moved to the Salt Palace, and then later to the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy, Utah. Considered the largest indoor display of decorated Christmas tree, the Festival has grown into a 220,000 square-foot display of 700 trees, a gift boutique, a sweet shop, a display of wreaths and door decorations, centerpieces, gingerbread houses, and backyard playhouses. There is also Santa, activities for children, hot scones and sweet rolls, and continuous live entertainment.

The name of the Women’s Endowment Committee was changed to the Festival of Trees Executive Board. The 90-member board is led by Chairwoman Kae Rasmussen, and her Co-chair Shauna Davis, Kelly Petersen, and Brooke Thompson. Each Board Member organizes committees of 10 or more volunteers throughout the state.

What Keeps People Coming to this 46-year Tradition?
Some say that if you don’t “catch” the Christmas spirit at the Festival of Trees, you are a certified Scrooge. The “Gift of Love” theme is personified everywhere you look – trees decorated in honor or in memory of children at Primary Children Hospital, as well as loved ones past and present. In addition, this event now involves those who attended the Festival as children and now are taking their children to experience and feel what they felt as children.

You won’t see logos and sponsors peppered on the walls and in programs at the Festival of Trees. Everything is donated so that every penny raised will help children at Primary Children’s Hospital.
“This is a community-owned event,” says Chairwoman Kae Rasmussen. “With little exception, everything is donated – the gifts, trees, entertainment, the goodies, the tickets and posters, and the paper they are printed on. We simply could not publicly recognize or completely acknowledge the unselfish support given by so many on behalf of children.”

The Festival of Trees is open to the public 10:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m., November 30 through December 3, 2016. Free parking is available on-site at 9575 South State Street and evenings and all day Saturday at Worker’s Comp and I-Contacts. Patrons can also park at Jordan Commons for $5.00.

Tickets are $6.00 for adults; $3.00 for children ages 2-11; $5.00 for Senior Citizens (65 and older). An $18.00 Family Day ticket, admitting up to six immediate family members, is good for Wednesday only. Discount tickets are available at most branches of Zions Bank: $5.00 for adults; $2.50 for children. Discount tickets also include a free UTA return ride from South Towne Expo Center. (Must show Festival ticket stub and UTA ticket voucher.)