Part of the fun of the Christmas holiday is finding that perfect Christmas tree.
For the ninth year, the Chesapeake Cancer Alliance is hoping to make that task just a little easier and raise money for cancer patients and their families at the same time.
The ninth annual CCA Festival of Trees will be held Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 28, 29 and 30, at the Bel Air Reckord Armory, where dozens of trees, already decorated for Christmas and ready to put up as they are, will be auctioned off. The proceeds will go to the Cancer LifeNet program at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health Kaufman Cancer Center in Bel Air.
After a Wine Down Social to kick off the weekend on Friday evening, the Festival of Trees runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the armory, 37 N. Main St. in Bel Air.
Last year's Festival of Trees raised $35,000 for Cancer LifeNet, according to Festival of Trees chairperson Kathy Welch.
It's not just trees that will be up for auction (they also have a "buy it now" price tag attached). Wreaths and gingerbread houses are also available.
And, everything is decorated in any theme imaginable.
"There are all kinds of themes. There's bird trees, ravens trees, traditional Christmas trees," Welch said. "Last year we had a cookery tree, decorated with things you use in the kitchen, a spatula, spices."
Another popular tree is the gift card tree, sponsored by the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, which "has always been supportive of our trees," Welch said.
The trees up for auction, which range from 3.5 to 7 feet, are sponsored by local businesses, groups and individuals and are bid on throughout Thanksgiving weekend. Bidding ends at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30.
Welch said they typically have about 50 trees, though last year they had a high of 65. Twenty-five to 30 decorated wreaths will also be available. One of the gingerbread houses likely to be popular among the children is the "Frozen" castle.
"It will be very appealing to young children," Welch predicted.
The weekend is very much a family weekend, Welch said, with activities for children, who are admitted free, while their parents browse the trees.
For the last several years, and again this year, the youth group from Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd will provide entertainment, face painting crafts and other activities. Among the post popular is the decorate-your-own gingerbread house.
"They love it. They make it with graham crackers, icing, all kinds of different candies," Welch said.
The Harford County Reading Council also gives out free books to children on Saturday, Nov. 29.
While the Festival of Trees is Saturday and Sunday, the weekend kicks off the evening Friday, Nov. 28, with the Wine Down Social from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
"It's a wonderful evening," Welch said. "The lights are down, the trees are lit. That's what makes it to beautiful."
Visitors can stop by after work or enjoy an evening out in Bel Air and can start bidding on trees, wreaths or gingerbread houses that night, when they'll also be able to enjoy light hors d'oeuvres and win or beer from Magerks.
Retired Harford County Public Schools music teacher Jon Sobus will play holiday music.
Tickets can be purchased at Preston's Stationary or by calling 410-838-3987.
Saturday morning starts off with breakfast with Santa and Mrs. Claus at Applebee's in Bel Air. The jolly couple will come back to the armory to open the Festival of Trees at the 10 a.m.
"It's a whole weekend of events. We have 100 volunteers who are helping with decorating, making wreaths, gingerbread houses, helping with the raffle, all the activities, baking for bake table and just planning," Welch said. "We work very hard and work with the Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation, which has been a wonderful support and resource for our Festival of Trees."
Mrs. Claus will read to children at 11 a.m., members of the Ryan-Kilcoyne School of Irish Dance will perform at 1 p.m., followed by the Hoppin' Hawks Jump Rope Team at 2:30 p.m.
On Sunday, Magician Kirtley will perform shows at 11:45 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
The Festival of Trees began nine years ago when a CCA member new to the community, Kathleen Fox, had a vision.
"She was the one who planted the idea and, with the help of CCA, organized the first one. It was very popular," Welch said. "It's expanded since then. We look forward to it and I think the community looks forward to it also."
As a group, CCA works with the Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation to raise funds through individual and group projects throughout the year for the Cancer LifeNet program. The Festival of Trees and the holiday gift wrap at Harford Mall are two of their biggest fund-raisers.
Last year CCA donated about $100,000 in total to the program, Welch said.
"When people are faced with a life-threatening illness, it's a challenge for them. They often don't know where to go, what to do, and need help in making their decisions on their health care," Welch said. "LifeNet helps walk patients through all the choices they can make, gives them emotional support. They offer so many services to help with all of these issues that are thrown at you when you get a cancer diagnosis."
"We feel so grateful we are able to fund a program that is free and that is available to all patients and their families," she said. "When I do all this volunteer work, I want to help people in my community. That's why I chose to be part of CCA. It's very rewarding."