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STEPPING OUT: Festival of Trees turns on the love

FESTIVAL OF TREES

What: Themed Tidings of Comfort and Joy, this annual fundraiser, produced by The Fabulous Women of Sonoma County, is a display and auction of amazing decorated trees, with funds raised going to local non-profits to be announced at the event.

When: Friday, Dec. 1, 6 p.m.-9 p.m., and Saturday, Dec, 3 p.m.-9 p.m.

Where: Hotel Petaluma, 205 Kentucky St.

How much: Admission is free. Many opportunities to contribute and bid on auction items.

Information: TheFabulousWomen.com

“When people walk in, their mouths always drop,” says Melissa Becker, describing first-timers’ dependably dazzled reaction to Petaluma’s Festival of Trees event. “There are so many trees, and they are all so beautiful, you just can’t help but feel good the instant you step through the door.”

It all happens next weekend, Dec. 1 and 2, as the historic downtown Hotel Petaluma is transformed into a colorful and bustling winter wonderland, courtesy of the Fabulous Women of Sonoma County. The annual Festival of Trees fundraiser was created by Becker, and as produced by the Fabulous Women, just seems to get bigger and better every year.

“It is our largest event of the year and draws thousands of people every year to experience a little Christmas joy,” says Krista Gawronski, founder the Fabulous Women, a unique philanthropic group formed to raise money for important local causes and organizations. Says Gawronski, “The event is designed to bring our community together to spread cheer and do some good in the world.”

On both days of the Festival, now in its fifth year, visitors will be able to wander through the gorgeously restored hotel, enjoying live Christmas music, perusing raffle items, shopping at the Holiday Market Place, being tempted by hand-made treats and sweets, and even meeting and taking photos with Santa Claus.

Oh, yes. And then there are the trees.

The main event of the yearly celebration is a small forest of holiday-themed trees, each one donated and decorated by local businesses, groups, and individual artists. The creativity and imagination demonstrated each year is the primary draw for visitors, who’ve made the event a must for the winter holidays, often coming in groups to be astounded, amused and amazed by the inventiveness on display.

“I hear rumors of a Purple Rain tree this year, in honor of Prince,” reveals Becker. “I believe there will be a Stranger Things tree too, which should be popular. Oh, and of course, there will be the Lottery Tree, which we have every year.

That one, designed by a group of five women — and proven to be quite the attraction in the past — is a tree covered in Lottery tickets and scratchers.

“As far as I know, no one has won big from that one yet,” laughs bigger. “But I want that to happen. I really want someone to win a million dollars when they buy the Lottery Tree.”

Many of the trees come with value added surprises, such as last year’s Della Fattoria tree, the grand prize winner, decorated with vintage Christmas ornaments. The buyer of that tree was invited to a special dinner out at the Della Fattoria ranch. The Petaluma Police Department decorated a tree with badges and T-shirts, and it came with an offer of lunch with the Police Chief.

“Most of the trees have significant gift cards on them,” says Becker. “A lot of them come with invites to take private tours of local wineries or business or homes. It’s amazing what people come up with. There is so much love and generosity in this community.”

The dozens and dozens of trees will be auctioned off throughout the two day event, with revenues being awarded to two different Sonoma County non-profits, selected by the sponsoring Fabulous Women from a stack of worthy applicants. The recipients of this year’s bounty will be announced on Friday night, at 7 p.m.

FESTIVAL OF TREES

What: Themed Tidings of Comfort and Joy, this annual fundraiser, produced by The Fabulous Women of Sonoma County, is a display and auction of amazing decorated trees, with funds raised going to local non-profits to be announced at the event.

When: Friday, Dec. 1, 6 p.m.-9 p.m., and Saturday, Dec, 3 p.m.-9 p.m.

Where: Hotel Petaluma, 205 Kentucky St.

How much: Admission is free. Many opportunities to contribute and bid on auction items.

Information: TheFabulousWomen.com

This year, the event will include a Sonoma Strong Raffle, with proceeds going to the Redwood Credit Union’s Fire Relief Fund, assisting in the rebuilding of families and communities affected by the October firestorm. The grand prize of the Sonoma Strong raffle is a trip for two to Las Vegas, including airfare and a stay at the Wynn Hotel, courtesy of Marilyn Can Travel. Also up for grabs are tickets to major Bay Area sporting events, and a one-of-a-kind custom wine barrel from Bret’s Barrel Works. The unique art piece, created specifically for the Festival of Trees event, will be filled with a variety of first-rate local wines.

It was while Becker was living in Greenwich, Connecticut, that she experienced her first Festival of Trees event, a fundraiser for a local hospital.

“That was major. Those trees were eight and ten foot trees,” says Becker. She never forgot the thrill of the experience — or the fact that the event raised hundreds of thousands of dollars — and after moving to Petaluma, she decided to adapt the Festival of Trees idea to match the charming, old-fashioned river town vibe of our city. Says Becker, “I knew it could become a major tradition in Petaluma.”

It certainly has.

On Thursday night, a special invitation-only gala will be held for those groups and businesses who donated trees, along with past recipients of the Fabulous Women monetary grants. Those in attendance will hear music by Dirty Red Barn, and be the first to see this year’s trees.

Then, on Friday night, the doors open to the entire Petaluma and Sonoma County community. Music on Friday will be provided by a local women’s chorus, and the Petaluma High School jazz band on Saturday.

“What’s fun, is to take your time and see each tree for what it is, and just soak it in,” says Becker. “Each tree says something about the business, or the artist, or the friends who created it. We want people to bring their own friends and their kids and their family, and experience this together.”

Adds Becker, “Surrounded by all those trees, recognizing the love and kindness built into each one, well, that’s the true meaning of Christmas, isn’t it?”

(Contact David Templeton at david.templeton@arguscourier.com)