Feeling Festive

Norton Children’s Hospital’s Festival of Trees and Lights

By Lisa Hornung

Photos courtesy of Norton Children’s Hospital

The annual Festival of Trees and Lights will bring holiday joy to all Nov. 9-11, at Louisville Slugger Field.

Now in its 29th year, the festival has raised more than $7 million for Norton Children’s Hospital, according to Lynnie Meyer, senior vice president and chief development officer. “It really sets the tone for the holiday season,” she said. “So many people come back year after year, and people who came as children are now bringing their children.”

The festival features hundreds of decorated trees of all sizes as well as wreaths and other holiday items decorated by local designers.

“We also like to spotlight the Jewish faith tradition,” Meyer said. “We’ll have a collection of menorahs and dreidels that are on loan from many of the local Jewish congregations, lots of weekend giveaways of dreidels, chocolate gelt coins and special Hanukkah activities on Sunday.”

An Important Cause

All items are available for purchase, and proceeds this year go to benefit the Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Norton Children’s Hospital – a dedicated, state-of-the-art facility slated for completion in 2019. The hospital’s improvement project got a kickstart when Jennifer Lawrence donated $2 million from her foundation.

Proceeds will help with the purchase of the latest cardiovascular technology and equipment. Funds will also allow Norton Children’s Hospital to hire more specialists to care for the growing population of local children with heart issues. Each year, more than 550 children in Kentucky are born with congenital heart defects, the most common birth defect, and there are about 40,000 in the United States total according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Holiday Decor

Donna Kelly has been designing 10 to 20 small trees each year for 13 years. She first got involved when a friend of hers was charged with organizing volunteers. After the first year of doing general volunteer tasks, Kelly decided she wanted to start designing.

“I just thoroughly enjoy it,” she said. “It brings me such joy, and I’m just very lucky to be a part of it. I love the people that I volunteer with on the committee and everybody that comes down to set up. It’s really fun to walk around and see the look on everybody’s faces when they’re looking at the trees. Some of them are just in total awe.”

Kelly said she starts designing in the middle of summer. “July 4 is when they start putting out the Christmas stuff at Hobby Lobby, so I’m usually there,” she said. Kelly turns her basement into her tree decorating studio. “It’s my judgment-free zone,” she joked. “When people come over, I say, ‘You can come down in the basement, but you can’t judge me. I know I have a problem.’”

Trees range from two to nine feet tall, so there are lots of options for everyone. The ornaments are wired to the tree so they don’t fall off during transport, Kelly explained. Many of the trees will have themes involving cartoon characters, outdoorsy elements and more. Kelly makes University of Louisville and University of Kentucky themed trees every year, and this year she even created a 1990s Barbie ornament tree.

Family Fun

The festival has several fun options for kids, including a ride-on train, a sweet shop, free crafts and an outdoor Elf Town, which includes an inflatable obstacle course, a snowball toss and elf games. The Very Merry Market features a large selection of gifts with prices as low as  $1, $5 and $10.

On Thursday night, a designer preview party is held so that those who created trees can see the finished product, celebrate their hard work and visit with the other tree designers.

Friday evening is Festival Family Night – featuring holiday characters and decorations, activities for the entire family, the festival’s first appearance of Santa Claus and a fireworks extravaganza.

Saturday and Sunday are open to the public, but they are also Scout Days – days in which Boy and Girl Scout troops can come and complete a scavenger hunt to receive a festival patch.

Kelly said that besides being a creative outlet, decorating trees allows her to feel like she is making a difference. “I have three grown children and five grandchildren,” she said. “I keep doing this because they haven’t had extended stays at the hospital. But more importantly, I have friends who have had children stay at Norton Children’s Hospital for leukemia, chest surgeries and heart surgeries, so it’s just my way of trying to give back to the community. It brings me so much joy.” VT

Tickets for the community event, presented by Republic Bank, can be purchased online or at the door and are $9 for adults, $6 for children 12 and under and seniors 65 and older and free for children younger than 2. Children’s crafts are free with admission. The festivities run from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Visit FestivalofTreesandLights.org for more information, including a complete schedule of events.