The festival where magical elves usher in winter

Every year about this time, right about when many of us Red Deerians are vigorously expressing our surprise, shock and dismay that winter actually arrived — like it does more or less every year about this time — about 5,000 tireless and magical elves are working feverishly in the background with the sole purpose of making all of our grumpy humbug lives a lot better.

Every year about this time, right about when many of us Red Deerians are vigorously expressing our surprise, shock and dismay that winter actually arrived — like it does more or less every year about this time — about 5,000 tireless and magical elves are working feverishly in the background with the sole purpose of making all of our grumpy humbug lives a lot better.

And I’m not even talking about Christmas day.

I’m talking of course, about the city road crews who go about sanding and snowplowing and — no wait, that’s a different column.

I wish we did have 5,000 winter road elves, but what I’m thinking about is all those impressive, overworked volunteer elves who pull together the yearly celebration known as the Festival of Trees.

The sparkling event really does kick off the Christmas season, even though malls and stores have been playing Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer on their sound systems since before Halloween.

I don’t know about you, but I outwardly cringe when I begin to see the plastic spruce boughs and red bows sneaking into stores in October. It’s like when the “Back to School” signs, supplies and sales come out in July, barely a couple of weeks into the summer holidays.

As my Mom used to say, it makes my teeth hurt.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve admitted before that I’m a sucker for all things Christmas. I love all the lights, especially the tacky ones, and the songs, especially the cheesy ones, and all the bright shiny faces, especially the little ones.

I just squirm a bit when I see all that cliché crass commercialism disguised as ersatz Christmas cheer being forced on innocent citizens who are still mowing their lawns and haven’t even paid for their summer holiday Visa bills yet.

And in early fall, a person just isn’t ready for Christmas, especially the ersatz kind.

That’s just one of the reasons why the Festival of Trees is such a special event — it signals that the season of giving really is here, and that for a while winter isn’t so bad, and we can officially start basking shamelessly in the glowing LED energy-saving strings of colored lights that are beginning to twinkle at every turn.

In the 16 years the Festival has been kicking off Christmas, thousands of families (including mine) have been checking out the coolest decorated trees ever, and exploring the crafts and the games in Candy Cane Lane, and all the displays, dinners and auctions, and soaking up the seasonal entertainment.

You don’t even get tired of hearing Little Drummer Boy for the umpteenth time because it’s at the Festival of Trees and it’s positively rampant with that feeling that only Christmas and several thousand volunteer elves can bring.

I can remember my kids getting a pretend plaster cast on their finger at the hospital booth at the Festival of Trees one year, and they wore that thing for about three weeks.

There was the booth with the giant bubble that completely surrounded them and made them and us giggle when it broke. They made their own gingerbread cookies that looked sort of like alien creatures drowning in icing sugar, and they made all kinds of completely unrecognizable ornaments and decorations that still hang happily on our Christmas tree every year.

And the cutest of them all: Santa’s Secret Workshop.

You give your excited little kidlets a few dollars and they go by themselves inside the ‘workshop’ where you can’t see them, and they buy something extra special for Mom and Dad for Christmas. It’s probably the first time they’ve actually shopped for something on their own, and it makes Moms and Dads as excited as little kids when Christmas morning finally rolls around to see what on earth their little Santas have decided was special enough to give them. Of course, when you open the tiny teddy bear in a bag, or the odd little ceramic snowman on a toboggan, or the reindeer keychain, the real joy is the excitement you see on your kids’ faces when they realize first hand that Christmas is about giving, not getting.

When the kids were a little older, they performed on the stage where the families gather around like it was Carnegie Hall, proud and full of Christmas. And the year quickly comes when they were a little too old for the bubbles and the workshop so they volunteered in a craft booth, helping kids make Christmas puppets out of brown paper bags. Coming full circle, giving back, joining the Festival of Trees Team of Volunteer Elves.

Can you imagine how many families the Festival of Trees have touched? And the even better news is it benefits us all beyond the three days of fun and festivities at the Westerner Park. Last year the event raised $600K for a new colonoscopy clinic, which is a place nobody wants to visit but everybody should when they get to be as old as Santa. And as an added bonus, it might help to think of the joyful Festival of Trees during the colonoscopy procedure.

So thanks for the memories and the moments all of you magical bighearted elves create for kids of all ages every year. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a couple dozen renditions of Little Drummer Boy, a ceramic snowman on a toboggan ornament, or the enchanted forest at the Festival of Trees.

I’m think I might try to sneak into the kids lineup and get one of those little plaster casts on my finger this year.

And if I do, I’m not going to take that thing off for three weeks.

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, author, musician and filmmaker. His column appears on Saturdays.

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