Decorating trees is as fun as viewing them

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The ninth annual Festival of Trees will be held this Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7 and 8, at Backwoods Bar and Grill, in McGregor. (NIT file photo)

Michelle Pettit and Jane Lundquist, from the McGregor Public Library, are among those who lovingly decorate the trees each year. They always create something uniquely homemade, like these silver hearts from last year’s tree. (NIT file photo)

McGregor's ninth annual Festival of Trees is Dec. 7-8

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

From the twinkling lights and detailed ornaments to the fresh scent of pine, walking among the 45 decorated trees on display at McGregor’s Festival of Trees is always an awe-inspiring experience.

“You go down there and everyone has all these ideas. The trees are all so different,” remarked Jane Lundquist, children’s librarian at the McGregor Public Library. When the event is held this Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7 and 8, at Backwoods Bar and Grill, it will mark the seventh year she and library director Michelle Pettit have been among those who bring the trees to life.

Pettit said she and Lundquist were first encouraged to decorate a tree in 2012, when McGregor resident Diane Benson offered to sponsor one for the library. The tree that year incorporated book pages and had an owl topper, earning them a second-place award. Since then, they’ve always created something uniquely homemade, from angels and Ringling Bros. circus decor (a first-place winner) to Wynken, Blynken and Nod characters and woodland gnomes made of pinecones (another second-place award). Last year’s “Hearts of McGregor” tree featured hand-fashioned silver hearts.

The goal, said Pettit, is to come up with something different, yet not “too off the wall.”

“The idea phase is exciting,” she noted.

The two often begin batting around ideas in the summer, then finalize them as Festival of Trees approaches.

“We get so many ideas,” Lundquist said. “Sometimes it’s based off a writer or an observation, and you just play on it.”

For Pettit, making the ornaments is the hardest part.

“What you have in mind doesn’t always turn out,” she admitted.

“That drags sometimes,” Lundquist added, “especially with the homemade option. That’s a lot of ornaments. And you don’t want to have just one kind of ornament.”

Pettit said she has less patience, so tends to work on ornaments that can be made quickly. Lundquist handles the more elaborate details.

Together, they make a good team. And they learn to appreciate the work other individuals, businesses and organizations put into their trees.

“It’s interesting to see the process when it starts to when it’s fine-tuned and all done,” Pettit stated. “There are so many amazing [trees]. Everyone has their own way of doing things. They’re put together almost like floral arrangements.”

As in past years, when people visit Festival of Trees, they’re encouraged to vote for both their favorite mostly homemade and mostly store-bought trees. Many trees will also be sold via silent auction, so attendees can bid throughout Friday and Saturday on the one(s) they’d like to take home. All proceeds from the tree sales will go to local causes, including the MFL MarMac Snack Pack Program, the volunteer group that makes Quilts of Valor for local veterans, the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts after school program and the McGregor Historical Museum digitization project.

The library has had its homemade tree auctioned off each year.

“I like when they’re up for sale,” Lundquist said. Although it’s hard to surrender a tree they’ve put so much time into, “it’s about giving and letting go.”

You can check out the library’s tree—and all the other beautiful trees—on Friday from noon to 8 p.m., then again on Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

For those who would like a sneak peek at the trees, head to the special pre-festival event, “Dessert Among the Trees,” on Thursday, Dec. 6, from 6 to 8 p.m. The event is new this year, said organizer Bonnie Pruett, but it plays off an activity at the first Festival of Trees, when people could enjoy the trees and a piece of dessert at the same time.

“People kept talking about how much fun it was, so we decided to re-enact it and use it as part of the fundraiser,” she said.

People can purchase tickets now for this intimate preview of the illuminated winter wonderland. A ticket will also get you a specialty dessert like cheesecake or carrot cake, your choice of beverage and holiday musical entertainment by Jim and Laurie Klosterboer. 

“It’s an opportunity to socialize, enjoy dessert and be the first to see the trees,” Pruett shared. 

To purchase tickets in advance, stop by the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce office, McGregor City Hall or McGregor Public Library. Tickets can be purchased at the door, as well. 

Another fun Festival of Trees activity will be the annual “Spirits of Christmas” pub crawl at seven McGregor establishments Friday evening. Held from 4 to 8 p.m., attendees 21 and older can enjoy unique holiday drinks and other specials at Steve’s Silver Dollar, Josie’s River Queen, Latino’s Mexican Restaurant, Backwoods Bar and Grill, Pocket City Pub, Riverview and, new this year, the McGregor Legion Hall. Also new this year is a “poker run” contest, through which all participants will collect a playing card at each establishment. The winning poker hands will be entered into a drawing for a cash prize worth 20 percent of the total tickets sold. Visit the “Spirits of Christmas” Facebook page for more details.

Other Festival of Trees highlights include a holiday craft sale on both Friday and Saturday, along with a bake sale and special holiday luncheon on Saturday. Children’s activities, including gingerbread house-making, and photos with Santa Claus will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, as well. 

Music will also feature heavily in Festival of Trees. On Friday, beginning at 6 p.m., attendees can hear “The Two of Us,” the Victorian Carolers and a Christmas sing-a-long. On Saturday, the Ogle Sisters will lead a sing-a-long at noon, followed by a variety of Christmas music at 2 p.m., a barbershop quartet at 5:30 p.m. and “Santa’s Combo” at 6 p.m.

This is the ninth year of Festival of Trees, which is sponsored by The Left Bank Shop and Gallery, McGregor Historical Museum and Clan McGregor for Community Enrichment. Pruett said it’s the people—both committee members and those who attend—who make the event so special.

“It’s  just fun to see everybody and socialize,” she said.

Not a big decorator at home, Pettit said Festival of Trees is her “way of getting into the Christmas spirit.” She thinks it’s that way for others, too.

“All it takes is for someone to go once, then they look forward to it every year,” she shared.

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