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Festival of Trees in Lac La Biche offers early Christmas gifts

Tree raffle, Santa pictures, Shopping Extravaganza ready at Bold Center Nov. 25-28

LAC LA BICHE - Christmas festivities, fun and fundraising  will be up and running this year at the Bold Center in Lac La Biche for the annual Festival of Trees events from Nov. 25-28. 

Although last year's events were quite muted—due to COVID—says lead organizer Pat Boon-Anderson, this year some fan favourites, like pictures with Santa, the ‘Shopping Extravaganza’ and the ‘Magic of the Trees’ will be returning with safety precautions in place.

The highlight of the weekend is the elaborately decorated Christmas trees, donated by local groups and businesses that are often decorated not only with lights and sparkles, but also with gift vouchers and products. The trees are then raffled off. This year, there are 50,000 raffle tickets for sale.

In the event’s recent years, each Christmas-themed Festival of Trees weekend has raised upward of $40,000  —from the raffle ticket sales— to support local organizations in need, said Boon-Anderson, while simultaneously bringing holiday cheer to the community.

“You can look forward to getting out of the house and seeing beautifully lit Christmas trees. It really gets you in the spirit of hope, and seeing how generous our community is… we’re trying to spread hope and happiness.”

Returning favourites and regulations

Last year, donated Christmas trees were set up in local business storefronts instead of inside one room at the Bold Center. Spreading out the trees dimmed-down the ‘Magic of Trees’ event. However, this year Boon-Anderson says the walk-through event will be back in the Community Room at the Bold Center. 

There will be some COVID measures in place this year, however, with all events operating at one-third occupancy, she says.  This year, there is also the added benefit of viewing the trees online. Organizers hope the online availability will help to ease any congestion or wait times that might happen due to the occupancy restrictions.

“We’ve extended the trees online to try and accommodate people… we’re hoping it's going to run smoothly but there are only so many spots in each room and then you're going to have to wait until somebody leaves.

For a link to the online viewing, go to the story at www.lakelandtodayca.

Lots to do

A ‘Shopping Extravaganza’ of locally-crafted and handmade gifts and items will take over the main fieldhouse at the Bold Center, with social distancing and masking requirements in place. Family Free Skates will also be available again through the weekend on the Bold Center ice,  and Santa pictures will require individuals to book a slot time online.

Some events like the "Cookie Walk will be incorporated into the Shopping Extravaganza” this year to allow more people to spread out throughout the building and avoid long lineups, Boon-Anderson says.

The Successful Families and Successful Kids program through Northern Lights Public Schools will also offer hot chocolate — for take-out sipping only — and promote mental health initiatives.

New Programs

The North Art Exhibit and Show—in partnership with Portage College and the Lac La Biche Art Club—is a new edition to the event's lineup, says Boon-Anderson.

Local artists will submit various pieces to the exhibit with some artists attending the events and representing their work. In the future, she says, they are hoping to have workshops with artist painting and creating with attendees.

“We hope that this is going to grow and expand, and give artists a show every year to showcase their work.”

Lac La Biche’s Rotary Club also came on board this year to prepare a takeaway holiday meal for $25, for pickup at the Devon Room from 5:30-6:30 on November 27—meals must be pre-ordered, contact Sue Ward: 780-689-7554 or bsward@telus.net.

Giving Back

In the last 10 years, says Boon-Anderson, Festival of Trees events has raised over $250,000—predominantly from raffle ticket sales—to support non-profits, kids groups and future leaders.

After paying the events expenses, all the funds are distributed to the volunteer groups and organizations that apply for funding. However, due to all the COVID alterations, she says, and the event only making $11,000 last year, they’ve taken on a new model on how to fairly support local groups.

“We had to switch it up this year because, we usually help about 40 groups over the weekend and they help us, but we can’t do that this year. Instead what we’ve said is if you help sell tickets; then we’ll give you an honorarium.”

However, they do plan on allocating a large portion of the funds to support the construction of a playground at the Light of Christ Catholic School in Lac La Biche and the Kids Nutrition Program, she says.

Whatever is remaining—regardless of the ticket sales—will be divvied up between all the supportive volunteer groups.

Without the generosity of volunteers, donors and the community the festival would not be as impactful or even running during the pandemic, she says.

“We usually have a huge Christmas concert, kids come and sing and dance, bouncy houses, clowns and face-painting… it’s usually really big and we try to have something for everybody, but we have to live with the rules and hopefully, people will still enjoy what we have to offer.”

Working with COVID

As difficult as the COVID regulations are to work with, there are still ways to enjoy and support the event that gives back to vital organizations, Boon-Anderson says.

“People  may need to understand patience. For instance, if there is a huge lineup to get in the Community Room, they may have to go to the ‘Shopping Extravaganza’ and then come back to us. It just going to take a little more patience this year.”

More information

Raffle tickets can still be purchased until November 25 at IGA, Britton’s Independent and Home Hardware individually or in the Community Room at the Bold Center throughout the event for $20 for a booklet of 20 tickets.

Proof of vaccination is not required to attend, however, everyone attending must wear protective masks, fill out a self-assessment record, social distance, and sanitize before entering different rooms.

Festival of Trees at the Bold Center

Thursday, Nov. 26: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., 

Friday, Nov. 27: 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., 

Saturday, Nov. 28: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., 

Sunday, Nov. 29: 11 a.m. to 2p.m.

For more information, updates and details visit www.lakelandtoday.ca for a link to more details.