Starting tomorrow (Friday, Dec. 1) and running through Saturday, Jan. 6, the Wright County Historical Society will be hosting its 17th Annual Festival of Trees at the museum site at 2001 Hwy. 25 north of Buffalo and adjacent to the Wright County Government Campus.
WCHS Business Manager Sally Stevens said the idea for the Festival of Trees was formed as a way to make more Wright County residents aware of the programs that take place at the WCHS throughout the year, as well as getting area businesses and organizations involved.
“We have a big gallery here and I thought it would be a good idea to ask local businesses and community members to decorate a Christmas tree where people could come for free and enjoy the holidays,” Stevens said. “It would give businesses the opportunity to show their community spirit as well as being a way to get more people through the door to see what we have to offer and let people know what a treasure this place is.”
Now it is touted as the largest indoor holiday tree display in Minnesota, but it had very humble beginnings.
In its first year in 2006, there were 15-20 trees decorated and about 80 people showed up just to see the display. Last year, more than 2,500 people came through the doors to see 88 decorated trees. This year there are 90 trees and the growth of the Festival of Trees has been so pronounced that this was the first year that the event ran out of spots and had to turn potential tree decorators away.
It took about a decade for the event to take off in terms of the number of trees and attendance to spike, but that came crashing down like so many other events in 2020 when COVID hit. It has taken a couple of years for the attendance to return to pre-COVID levels, but Stevens is pleased to announce that the advance buzz for the 2023 Festival of Trees is stronger than ever.
“COVID hurt us quite badly,” Stevens said. “We had 3,000 people come through the doors for the 2019 Festival of Trees. In 2020 we had to shut down because of COVID. We came back in 2021, but we had a lot of COVID protocols that were in place and people were still afraid to come out for public gatherings. We dropped to about 1,500 people that year. Last year, we had 2,500 and we could see every day that things were picking back up. I’m convinced this year will be our biggest year ever.”
The Festival of Trees brings in a cross-section of people of all ages. From children who stare in awe at the array of uniquely decorated trees to senior citizen groups that make an afternoon of viewing, Stevens said that, like the WCHS events during the rest of the year, there is something for any age.
“Our demographic is everybody,” Stevens said. “We want every citizen in the county to know that this is their place and that the Historical Society is all about them. We run programs for people of all ages throughout the year. The Festival of Trees is a way to get more people to come into the building and see what we’re all about.”
A special event taking place during the 2023 Festival of Trees will be the return Saturday, Dec. 16 of Santa Claus. Santa will be on hand from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. A special photo area will be set up with Santa and the photos will get sent via email at no cost.
The WCHS is also looking for volunteers and greeters. Those interested can sign up for shifts during the run of the Festival of Trees at https://www.wrighthistory.org/festival-of-trees
“It’s really a lot of fun,” Stevens said. “We highly recommend people do it and bring a friend or family member. We have some groups that volunteer for a two- or three-hour shift as part of their holiday tradition.”
Viewing hours will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Saturdays. There will also be special hours on Christmas Eve (Sunday, Dec. 24) from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.