Annual Festival of Trees kick starts the holiday season in Bel Air

For the 13th year, the Chesapeake Cancer Alliance will bring many decorated trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses to life for the Thanksgiving weekend at the Bel Air Armory.

This event showcases donated trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses to be sold by silent auction benefiting Cancer LifeNet at the Patricia D. and Scott M Kaufman Cancer Center at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health in Bel Air. Cancer LifeNet assists more than 1,500 patients and families each year.

“Each year, this event is organized by a dedicated group of volunteers to bring the community together to celebrate the season, support the downtown businesses in Bel Air and to raise awareness of the tremendous Cancer LifeNet services available to the community. All proceeds from this event stay here in our community to help patients and families fighting cancer,” Sandy Guzewich, 2018 CCA Festival of Trees chairperson, said.

The Festival of Trees runs Friday, Nov. 23 from 4 to 8 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 24, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Bel Air Armory, 37 N. Main St. in Bel Air. Tickets are $7 for adults each day and children under 12 are free. Children under 12 can enjoy face-painting and making gingerbread houses for $5.

The Festival of Trees will feature more than 50 decorated and themed trees, including an 8-foot revolving tree and a 9-foot tree decorated all in red, neither of which the festival has had before.

“We’re excited about having these two larger trees as our anchors and as showpieces,” Guzewich said. “Usually we have 5, 6 or 7-foot trees.”

Among the more popular trees from year to year are those decorated in traditional Christmas reds and golds, as well as trees with a nature theme.

Local themes also sell well — Broom’s Bloom donates a tree that includes gift cards to the dairy and the Bel Air Downtown Alliance tree features gift cards to downtown businesses.

In addition to the trees, 40 decorated wreaths and 16 gingerbread houses will be available for sale.

Each item is bid on through a silent auction, but each also comes with a “buy it now” price, Guzewich said.

“People are more than welcome to buy it outright,” she said.

Those that are purchased for the “buy it now” price — which Guzewich said is about a quarter to a third — can’t pick up the trees until after 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Entertainment throughout the weekend includes local musician John Sobus, the Bel Air High School pop choir A Capella Journey, Dance With Me School of Dance and the Hopping Hawks.

In addition to the auction, the event includes a breakfast with Santa at the Main Street Tower restaurant on Saturday, Nov. 24 from 9 a.m. to noon. The cost is $12 for adults and $9 for children 4 and older. Reservations must be made by calling 410-838-8007.

Santa will also be available Friday, Nov. 23, inside the front doors of the Armory, sitting in a “living room” by a fireplace on loan from Courtland Hardware.

In its 13 years, the Festival of Trees has become an integral part of Thanksgiving weekend in Bel Air.

“It’s really part of downtown. It has become a traditional downtown with Black Friday and and Small Business Saturday on Main Street,” Guzewich said. “It’s really a draw for downtown businesses, the Alliance and the Town of Bel Air.”

Even for people who don’t necessarily buy a tree, wreath or gingerbread house, the event itself has become a family tradition, she said.

Since its inception in 2005, the Festival of Trees has raised more than $400,000 for Cancer LifeNet at the Kaufman Cancer Center, which has an annual budget of about $1 million, Guzewich said.

Each year the CCA sets a goal to raise $200,000 for the Chesapeake Cancer Alliance, she said, and the Festival of Trees provides a large piece of that — nearly $50,000.

Other CCA fundraisers include the Amanda Hichkad CCA Celebration Walk, gift wrapping during the holiday season at Harford Mall (which begins Dec. 8 and runs through Christmas Eve), cancer awareness bracelet sales (available for $25 or $30) and a CCA cookbook ($15 for one or $25 for two).

“The Cancer LifeNet programs and services provided to cancer patients are free of charge,” she said. “If you’re a resident of Harford County and being treated for cancer you and yoru family can take advantages of the services at Kaufman Cancer Center.”

In addition to nurse navigators, who help patients work through their treatment, programs include oncology and financial social workers as well as exercise, dietary and “look good feel good” programs. Other programs are available just for children of cancer patients.

All of these programs are incredibly helpful to patients who are being treated for cancer, Guzewich said.

“Because ‘you have cancer” is a devastating thing to hear,” she said.

While she has not been diagnosed with cancer, Guzewich’s father, brothers and nephew have, and she wishes they would have had the services available to them that are available at the Kaufman Cancer Center.

“I just know the value of it,” she said. “Cancer LifeNet is a tremendous comfort and resource for our cancer patients. I just totally believe in it and it makes a huge difference to see people in their outlook and in their recovery rate — I really think it has an effect.”

For more information and a coupon for $2 off the admission price, visit www.uchfoundation.org/festival-of-trees.

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