21Country: Holiday frenzy behind-the-scenes to make Festival of Trees a family favorite tradition

The annual event enters its 37th year
Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 5:30 PM EST
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - For one week a year, dozens of elaborately designed and decorated Christmas Trees line the historic halls of the Embassy Theatre. The Festival of Trees is an annual event — the biggest fundraiser for a venue hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. A typical tour during its run, is a peaceful stroll admiring beautiful trees, with the quiet tune of Christmas music in the background.

Most don’t know, in the days leading up to its opening, the Embassy Theatre is echoing with chaos and frenzy. Sponsors and decorators have just two days to get their tree installed and together before it begins.

“We’ve evolved over the years to accommodate more trees, more sponsors, more donors, more decorators,” Chief Marketing Officer Carly Myers told us. “We definitely got into the double-digits of newcomers this year — which probably explains why we have a record number of trees.”

In just sponsorships alone, the Embassy has already raised over $100,000 — even before the majority of tickets will be sold leading up to, and after Thanksgiving. “We’ve had a rough couple of years as a world,” she added. “And the amount of support, creativity, joy and love that’s been put into the event by everyone in the community… decorators, sponsors, donors, volunteers, staff, everyone — we just want to welcome people back to a sense of normalcy.”

In the past, visitors could marvel at 40-60 trees, displaying themes of all kinds. This year, there are 71. I&M sponsors the events four live trees, which are decorated by kids. Carroll High School’s interior design class was one of them. Several students spent their weekend designing their tree designed with elements from Disney’s Tangled.

“We tried to find elements of it that we thought would be kind of cool, aspects that the movie added,” freshman Ellyanna Rogers shared. “It’s not your traditional, in the classroom, writing a whole essay on it — it’s more hands on.”

“I’ve always wanted to design things,” senior Amaya Winfree explained. “We’ve changed a few things just because, in our heads, it looked good. But now that we’ve put it together and saw it makes more sense in a different way.”

Staff from Giordano’s adorned their tree with cheese sticks, pizza slice lights, and dehydrated peppers. “To be honest with you, we had never heard of the Festival of Trees, because we’re new to the region,” owner Tom Fife said. “When we walked through the door, we started with a four foot tree — I don’t know what I was thinking!”

“Then I looked… holy smokes, I upgraded immediately!” he continued. “How could we take this tree, and send forth the image of Giordano’s? Our theme of our tree is: have a cheesy Christmas!”

While some sponsors opt to design their own tree, they can also employ the services of decorators. Returning designers who have a gift for weaving a brand into the theme creatively, or making something entirely new on their own. Scott Hermance is one of those people.

“In the past, I’m a three times ‘People’s Choice’ winner,” he said. “I’ve won for my Cinderella tree, my 80′s tree, and my ‘Mary, Mary, how does your garden grow’ tree.” This year, he’s been working with Berne workwear, incorporating miniature versions of their clothing line, logo, and cardinals for the state of Indiana. “It is chaotic here. People were pulling up at 9:30 a.m. to come in and decorate,” Hermance described Sunday afternoon. “People are very passionate about this and put their best foot forward.”

Dozens of other unique designs, and stories, remain scattered throughout the Embassy Theatre. “Having all the support and all of the beauty inside this facility… we would just like people to come and experience it,” Myers said. “We just want people to enjoy the theme this year, which is truly the magic of the season.”

ABC21 is a proud sponsor of the event. Our “Breaking Morning News, Coffee!” tree, designed by Cindy Friend, can be found near the Embassy’s entrance. She incorporated faces of our morning team, camera equipment, and of course coffee.

The Festival of Trees opens to the public Wednesday. Tickets cost $10 for an adult (13+) and $5 for kids (ages 1-12). It runs through December 1.

Hours are as follow:

  • Nov. 24 6-9 p.m.
  • Thanksgiving Noon-8 p.m.
  • Nov 26-28 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Nov. 29 9 a.m. to 1 p.m, 5-9 p.m.
  • Nov. 30 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Dec. 1 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

You can find additional information on events happening at the Embassy during the Festival of Trees on their website here.

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