INNISFAIL – There is a determined commitment and effort by organizers of the third annual Innisfail Festival of Trees to embrace anyone who wants to seize the holiday spirit no matter where they can find it in town.
For organizers, there is no one event or person that has the Christmas spirit cornered.
“That's our biggest goal is to make sure it's for the community. It's not just for one place to be benefited. It's for the whole community,” said Crystal Kemp, tree festival committee member and treasurer.
The venue for this year’s Innisfail Festival of Trees is once again focused in the lobby between the Innisfail Public Library and the Community Room.
Before guests enter the area to view the dazzling display of festival tree lights everyone must pass through the Welcome Arch.
“We just wanted it to be more of a hometown Christmas and a really warm feeling and just open it up for the community,” said Kemp.
The free festival began with a preview evening on Nov. 24. It will run for nine days until Dec. 2.
The preview night was new to the festival. Dozens of curious guests attended. There were refreshments mixed with plenty of cheer and pure awe for the gorgeous array of glowing decorated trees.
“We just wanted to open it up for our sponsors, just to give them a little sneak peek and let them see what they're bringing us and helping us with,” said Kemp. “And to thank them. Because without them we wouldn't have a festival.”
There are 22 sponsored Christmas trees this year, one more than in 2022.
Best of all, the Innisfail Community Tree is back; huge, tall and breathtaking. It was sponsored by Innisfail town council.
“We're just hoping we can give more back to the community than what we did last year,” said Kemp, noting the festival raised about $7,000 in 2022, which was distributed to the Innisfail Christmas Bureau, the Innisfail and District Food Bank, the Innisfail Dairy Queen’s Angel Tree program, Autumn Grove, Sunset Manor and a family sponsorship Christmas program that was organized by Innisfailian Kristen Spatz.
The festival preview on Nov. 24 was in fact another shining preview for the town’s overall holiday spirit which is experiencing an unprecedented number of events since the Town of Innisfail officially opening the holiday season with its Countdown to Christmas evening event on Nov. 17, the same time as the opening of Discovery Wildlife Park’s half-million-light Light the Night attraction.
On Nov. 25 there was the first annual Christmas Bazaar at the Innisfail Royal Canadian Legion Branch #104; an event from 1 to 8 p.m. hosted by the Innisfail Special Events Planning Society. It featured a market, kids games, kids shopping centre, Photos with Santa, Candy Cane Lane, face painter and even a Joyful Jester.
The following day there was a Bowl, Sing and Snack afternoon event at Innisfail Bowling Lanes.
Coming up this weekend is the festival’s final day on Dec. 2; a day that will also have two other huge events in town – Hometown Christmas, an Innisfail & District Chamber of Commerce sponsored event that has many businesses participating and a farmer’s market at the legion, and the 27th annual Innisfail Charity Check Stop along Main Street from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
On the same day, the tree festival will host its second annual Artisan and Crafter Holiday Market from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.in the learning centre’s Community Room.
Grace Baxter, a festival committee member in charge of the market, said there will be 15 vendors this year, which is an increase from 2022 when there was 11.
She said the market will benefit many visitors to the festival by offering unique Christmas shopping opportunities.
“There's the trees but not everybody's got the budget for trees,” said Baxter, adding the market will include indigenous vendors, handmade baking and Christmas-themed ornaments. “It helps bring people in and get some Christmas gifts while they're here.
“We actually had quite a few people that we had to turn away this year,” added Baxter of the fast popularity of the festival’s market. “It was filled very quickly.”
Most of all, festival organizers are hoping the Innisfail Festival of Trees and the many other holiday season events in town will inspire everyone to work together for the betterment of the community.
Dale Dunham, a tree festival committee member, said his team is ensuring there is plenty of cross-promotion happening to ensure as many people as possible know what is going on in town from now until the new year.
Like Kemp he does not think for a second the town will become over saturated with holiday season events.
“I think by having more events here people are more apt to stay in town and support the town,” said Dunham, noting his event has more volunteers than ever before.
“This provides people with the opportunity to get involved and become a community builder and help share that community spirit.”
For more information on the festival go to the festival’s website at innisfailfestivaloftrees.ca