Festival of Trees remains tradition families pine for
Embassy fundraiser gets started Nov. 23 during Night of Lights
One of Fort Wayne’s most beloved traditions, Festival of Trees, is back for its 38th year at the historic Embassy Theatre.
Festival of Trees offers a lot to do and remains open eight consecutive days, from Wednesday, Nov. 23, to Wednesday, Nov. 30.
Beloved and familiar, all the expected traditions of the festival return this year to the Embassy, beginning with Fort Wayne’s annual Night of Lights on Wednesday, Nov. 23, when many make it a point to stop by the Festival of Trees as part of city’s official kickoff to the Christmas season.
Thanksgiving Day offers a chance to get the family away from the dinner table and out of the house to tour the festival, as well as enjoy a screening of the animated version of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Eye-catching animated window displays along Harrison Street are a returning favorite and available every day, the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir will perform on its traditional Monday night, Nov. 28, and a variety of other youth performances will take place on the Embassy stage during the duration of Festival of Trees.
Senior Day is planned for Tuesday, Nov. 29, and Santa and Mrs. Claus will be on-site throughout the festival to hear requests from good girls and boys. And of course, Breakfast with Santa, which is already close to selling out, is Friday and Saturday, Nov. 25-26.
“We don’t want to mess with any of the traditions that are expected here,” said Carly Myers, chief marketing officer at the Embassy. “We’d really upset people if we didn’t have these activities because that’s all stuff that people love and have come to really get used to doing here every year.”
Creativity over theme
Although there are other activities, the main attraction is, of course, the trees.
The lobbies of the Embassy Theatre and the adjoining Indiana Hotel are transformed into a wonderland of decorated trees of various sizes and shapes and are decorated with an array of themes from local businesses and organizations. With so much to admire, attendees can spend hours appreciating them, comparing them, and choosing their favorites.
Previous festivals have revolved around a theme, but that concept has been abandoned this year in favor of creativity. Myers explained there was often confusion among tree sponsors as to how to incorporate that year’s particular theme into the planned decorations, so the idea was abandoned.
“This change allows all the extraordinarily creative decorators to do just about whatever they want,” she said.
Truth be told, many trees did not incorporate the festival’s chosen theme in the past since many sponsors had different ideas and messages they were trying to convey.
“We feel like removing a theme altogether offers more creative freedom for those involved with the tree sponsorship process,” Myers said.
Cost for good cause
Founded in 1984, the Festival of Trees is the larger of two main annual fundraisers for the Embassy Theatre Foundation. The other is the Marquee Gala, usually held around May.
Money raised helps support ongoing operational and restoration efforts but the event has an significant worth in the community as well.
“The festival is really invaluable,” Myers said. “People understand that the ticket price is a donation, and they’ve always come to support us. But its importance as a community event can’t be overshadowed. This is an event where you sometimes have three or four generations show up together to tour the festival, which is pretty remarkable.
“It’s a very important community holiday tradition, but also very important to us to sustain our operations throughout the year.”
As one might expect, planning for Festival of Trees is a huge endeavor. It begins immediately, while the trees from the previous are still being wrapped up and delivered to their final homes.
“We then pick right up after the holidays,” Myers said. “It is literally a year-long project, because we have dozens and dozens of donors, sponsors, tree decorators, staff, and volunteers activated for this event. There’s a lot of moving pieces at any given time and it takes time to plan for it.”
Pressure to top each year’s festival doesn’t exist, Myers said. The staff strives for excellence every year because they know what the public expects.
“It’s been around for almost four decades now, and the community has grown to love what this tradition has become,” she said. “We strive for this to be an excellent event every single year. We hold ourselves to the highest standards to make sure that happens and to make sure every patron that walks through that door has an amazing time.”
More than 20,000 patrons are expected to walk through the doors of the Embassy to check out the Festival of Trees this year, a projected increase over last year but in line with years prior to the pandemic.
“We had record years leading up to the pandemic with attendance going up a little each year. But of course, everything got reset with the pandemic,” Myers said. “We think that some of the people that may have not been comfortable coming out last year will come this year.”
Tickets are on sale, and Myers and company are extremely proud that they were able to hold prices steady once again this year at $10 for adults, $5 for youths, and infants allowed in free, though they must still have a ticket. Myers encourages advanced purchases if you plan to attend, because, she said, “the lines can get incredibly long.”
Tickets can be obtained at the Embassy Theatre box office or on the theater website at fwembassytheatre.org.