INNISFAIL – Last year organizers for the 1st Annual Innisfail Festival of Trees had three weeks to prepare.
It was a resounding success with 24 dazzling sponsored Christmas trees. This year the goal is 35.
The inaugural event raised $6,500 in 2021 to help Innisfail’s less fortunate. For 2022, the goal will be to raise more, much more.
This optimism has come because the committee is starting this year with three months of preparation time; especially beneficial to get more advertising out to attract more people now that COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and to engage support from Innisfail’s business community.
“It's tough to compete with last year but we are excited,” said Brandi Laughlin, chair of the festival’s organizing committee. “We've added a couple of additional things and we have more time for dedicated planning to make sure this is equally, if not more successful this year.”
The 2nd Annual Innisfail Festival of Trees will run from Nov. 25 to Dec. 4. The venue will once again be the Innisfail Library/Learning Centre where the lobby will be aglow for 10 days from breathtaking Christmas magic.
“The magic was young and old. We had both ends of the spectrum meet in the middle for a really special event,” said Norma Hoppins, the festival’s volunteer coordinator. “We planned a scavenger hunt for the children, and the seniors played it with a vengeance.”
Riki Findley, the event’s creative director, said the goal is to make the festival a “homey, comfortable, warm, and inviting space” for everyone to seize the holiday season magic.
“It’s really to take Christmas back to an old timey feeling,” said Findley. “It should be really beautiful and warm in there.”
Along with the dazzling array of sponsored Christmas trees, which the public gets to judge in best overall, most holiday spirit and most creative categories, the 10-day festival will also have its gift basket raffle, which was also popular last year. The committee is looking to have 35 this year, less than in 2021 but bigger and better.
“We're going to be looking to businesses to donate raffle prizes, and we'll have baskets of wonderful products from our community and perhaps some from outside,” said Sue Haddow, festival raffle coordinator. “It's going to be a good supportive thing for the community to showcase the different businesses we have.”
New this year will be a 50/50 draw and the opening of the Community Room on Dec. 3 for a Holiday Market that will feature artisan vendors and crafters, and stations for cookie decorating, DIY ornament holiday colouring.
The following day there will be the festival’s wrap-up event, which so far will have Turner & Tessa and Mary Anne Message providing entertainment.
“We really want to incorporate as many community events together and show as much community awareness and bring everyone in a Christmas spirit and just have everybody involved,” said committee treasurer Crystal Kemp. “There's a lot of different things this committee is working hard on to bring the community together as a whole, and not just as a festival of trees. We want to really encourage a lot of togetherness with everybody.”
The priority of the event is to support the town’s needy. Last year, thousands of dollars were donated to the Innisfail and District Foot Bank, Christmas Bureau, and Dairy Queen’s Angel Tree program.
As well, the festival sponsored less fortunate families through McMan Central. The event also had its own Santa’s Wish List initiative.
But there is change this year. The committee felt its Santa’s Wish List program was redundant and more support will be focused on both the Christmas Bureau and Innisfail food bank.
“But we also want to make sure that seniors at Autumn Grove are supported with the seniors’ stockings again because it was nice to ensure that no one was left out,” said Dale Dunham, a committee director.
Dunham also acknowledged the festival is being held the same time as Discovery Wildlife Park’s Light the Night drive-thru project, an initiative that is expected to attract thousands of visitors to the community and take the holiday season to an even higher level.
He believes both events will only benefit each other, along with the entire community.
“Maybe some people who are specifically coming for the festival will have an opportunity as they're leaving town when it’s dark to be able to go and see it (Light the Night),” said Dunham.
“They complement each other. They don't compete with each other. They help us build capacity in this town.”