Festival of Trees pairs volunteer designers with downtown businesses for creative holiday displays

The McLaren Port Huron Foundation Festival of Trees has returned to the Blue Water Area, an annual tradition cherished by volunteer tree designers, holiday window shoppers, and the neighboring community alike.

Karynn Carrell, McLaren Port Huron Foundation Director of Philanthropy, oversees the foundation’s events and fundraising efforts. Now in its 35th year, Carrell says the festival is one of the organization’s most popular fundraising events.

Karynn Carrell, McLaren Port Huron Foundation Director of Philanthropy.“It’s always been a fundraiser for McLaren Port Huron Hospital and, this year, we are focusing on the expansion of our lung cancer program at the hospital,” she says. “Lung cancer is the leading cause of death in the nation, so we want to provide everyone within the community with early detection and early treatment options so we can save lives in the future.”

The Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Port Huron lung screening program, part of the statewide Karmanos Cancer Network, helps screen patients for early signs of lung cancer.

This year, the event has a more widespread footprint, with a goal of encouraging more window shoppers and foot traffic to local small businesses. Previous iterations of the event saw a more scaled-back version, due to COVID-19 safety concerns, and featured decorated trees in the South Tower Lobby of the hospital. Before that, the festival brought large gatherings to the Blue Water Convention Center with dozens of festive trees.

“We made the decision to expand the Festival of Trees to downtown Port Huron to spread the holiday magic throughout the community,” Carrell says. “The trees have been within the hospital the last couple of years post-COVID. We have partnered with the local downtown businesses to host over 20 trees within their storefronts downtown. All of those trees will be up and lit, kicking off this Black Friday.”

The Red Stilletos themed Christmas tree by Connie & Leah Rankin is located at Wells Fargo on Huron Avenue in downtown Port Huron. The trees will be up now throughout the holiday season all through December instead of just one weekend, as in the past. Visitors are welcome to stroll the sidewalks to see the twinkly light trees all lit up in the windows, even past business hours.

Similar to last year’s event, the festival will have nearly 50 six- and seven-and-a-half foot artificial themed trees. This year’s themed trees include everything from buffalo plaid to a White Christmas, a Griswold Family Christmas, a peacock tree, and more.

“I’m really excited for how well the community aspect has been well-received,” she says. “I’d be happy to make sure a business or a designer is put on the list to be contacted next year. We’re looking forward to continuing to grow it over the next few years.”

Volunteer designers are a crucial part of the event and their creativity and eye for design truly makes the event special, says Carrell. This year, the festival is made possible by the help of 20 community designers and 27 hospital department designers.

Tricia Course-Cislo, a dedicated volunteer tree designer, says she looks forward to participating in the Festival of Trees each year. Having upheld this tradition for 21 years, Course-Cislo says she starts planning months in advance on how to bring her clever and imaginative tree designs to life.

Tricia Course-Cislo, volunteer tree designer for McLaren Port Huron Foundation Festival of Trees.“One year I did a Christmas is out of this World theme with aliens, spaceships, and a solar system on top of the tree,” she says. “I had an alien holding a sign about keeping Pluto as a planet. Another year I did The Simpsons Christmas with panorama sets and sayings with Bart. I used a lot of big blue tulle and a donut tree topper I made.”

Decked out with traditional Christmas colors like green, red, gold, and silver – but with a fun youthful twist of the gnomes — Course-Cislo’s Gnome for the Holidays themed tree will be on display in downtown Port Huron in The Closet by A Beautiful Me.

“It takes a lot of work to bring your ideas to fruition and I love that it’s incorporated into downtown Port Huron stores now to encourage shopping at a store you might not have visited in a while or never been to,” she says. “I think it’s the best idea yet because it’s a lot of work and it should be part of the holiday for as long as it can be.”

This year’s Festival of Trees offers additional seasonal festivities such as the Alan Turner Band’s Kenny Rogers Christmas Tribute held on Dec. 1 and the upcoming Breakfast with Santa scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 16 at Wrigley Hall. Seating is offered every 45 minutes from 9-11:15 a.m. Tickets are $20 and reservations can be made by email at partybookings@wrigleyhall.com.

“The last portion of our programming is our raffle tickets,” Carrell says. “With nearly 50 trees that we have throughout Port Huron, you can purchase a raffle ticket for $5 to enter to win one of the designer trees. All of the trees will have a QR code located in front of them with the number and name of that particular tree. That code will take you to a landing page where you can find the corresponding tree to purchase the raffle ticket for.”

Raffle drawings will take place on Jan. 2, 2024, and all proceeds will benefit McLaren Port Huron’s lung cancer screening program.

For more information about this year’s Festival of Trees and seasonal programming, visit the McLaren Port Huron Foundation at mclaren.org/phfestival.

Photography by Emily Goudy/Photographs by Emily
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Sarah Spohn is a Lansing resident, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at sarahspohn.news@gmail.com.