How lovely are thy branches

True, they only adorn our homes for a few weeks. And yes, when the day comes to take them down, we'll curse all the impossible-to-vacuum needles they leave behind on the carpet.

But Christmas trees are beautiful and signify the most joyous time of the year. With Thanksgiving behind us, tree-trimming season is officially here — time to dig out the stand, untangle the lights and start stringing the popcorn.

Every year, Baltimore's evergreens put their best limbs forward at the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Festival of Trees. Hundreds of trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses, decorated by some of the area's most creative minds, are offered for sale. Nothing is too audacious or out-of-bounds.

"It's really incredible," says Lainy LeBow-Sachs, executive vice president of external relations at Kennedy Krieger. "Some of the trees, I couldn't do it if I spent 20 years trying to think about it."

This year's crop includes one tree that's been turned into a racing car; another into an ice cream cone. There's even an aluminum tree that Lebow-Sachs promises is so impressive, "I'd like to have it on my lawn as a piece of sculpture."

In all, some 170 seven-foot trees, priced from $250 to $500, will be on display this weekend inside the Cow Palace at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. And if that's a little outside your price range, more than 200 two-foot trees will be available, beginning at $25. There will also be scores of wreaths and gingerbread houses up for sale.

Even those who aren't in the market for a pre-decorated may want to stop by, if only to get a serious dose of holiday spirit. "SantaLand" includes pony rides (reindeer would have been nice, but they seem to be busy elsewhere), carnival games, a carousel and the Jolly Old Elf himself. Olympic figure skating gold medalist Dorothy Hamill will read a holiday story at 5:30 p.m. Saturday; Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain will do the same at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

"People are so thrilled and so proud to be doing this," says Lebow-Sachs, noting the festival has raised more than $12 million for the developmentally disabled children and their families served by Kennedy-Krieger. "They come in and are excited about it, very upbeat and proud. They love being creative."

The 2010 Festival of Trees runs through Sunday at the Timonium Fairgrounds, 2200 York Rd. Hours are 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $5-$10; children under 4 get in free. Information: 443-923-7300 or