This week I attended the Festival of Trees for the first time with my mom and sister Erin. It was wonderful to see all the creativity and skill that went into each tree, therapeutic to walk down each aisle and talk to each other, and touching to think of all the people, many no longer living, who inspired the decorating of each tree.
The festival has served as a fundraiser for Primary Children’s Hospital for 45 years and is always well-attended (just try to find a parking spot). Organizers and volunteers stay busy not only with all the trees, but also herding the many performing groups from bus to dressing room to stage. I remember my only experience with the festival was in high school – rushing to get there in time for a choir performance and getting chewed out by the choir director for giving him more gray hairs (I was the accompanist so it was kind of important that I actually show up.) It was much more enjoyable this time around.
My sister Erin is a big fan of the Festival of Trees and brings her family every year. In fact, she had already taken her kids there the night before and was still willing to join us. Because of her love for the festival and her experience decorating a tree in the past, I asked Erin to share some of her experiences. (And if you want to read another blog post by Erin, check out The Family That Ran 680 Miles to Disneyland. She’s neato.)
When my youngest son Jonas was 2 1/2 years old, he made his very first best friend, our next door neighbor Jackson. He was a year older than Jonas and they were instant friends. Jackson was my buddy too. He called me his Erin. When it was time for him to go home, often times it was kicking and screaming, “I want my Erin!” It was hilarious. So the Father’s Day Jackson got really sick and ended up at Primary Children’s Hospital, we were really worried. Tests came back showing Jackson had lymphoma. He never did come home. The cancer caused so many complications, a collapsed lung was too much for Jackson’s little body, he passed away in September of 2008. I think he was too sweet and precious for this life.
My friend and neighbor suggested we do a tree for Jackson at the Festival of Trees. The Greenes weren’t members of the LDS church and not many neighbors knew them. It was amazing to see the neighborhood and ward come together to make the tree.
The Festival of Trees doesn’t just raise money for Primary Children’s Hospital, which is such a great cause, but its therapeutic effects are indescribable. Family and friends are healed a little through the making of a tree. Candice (Jackson’s mom) and her sisters, mom, and mother-in-law all made new friendships and made bonds that will last a lifetime in our ward. Candice started bringing her 3 little kids to church. She has now for 6 years and she goes above and beyond in any church calling. I know one day she and her husband will be sealed as a family in the temple. They are just amazing parents and have faced unbelievable adversity with cheerfulness.
I loved reading some of the stories which inspired the trees. It was moving to read of the experiences of loss, to see photos of babies whose lives were shortened, and to see the creative ways each group chose to honor those lives. Here are a few of my favorites. I’ll never be good at decorating, but I can certainly appreciate the efforts of those who are.
Christmas can be a difficult time for those who have lost loved ones, and I noticed different trees brought up specific memories for me as well. Although I usually hate crowds and long lines, the time I spent at the Festival of Trees was filled with the love and memories each family was willing to share with the rest of us. Not to get too cheesy here, but I really felt like it was a gift to be invited into some of those memories and to feel more Christmas-y than I have in a long time.