As families revisit their favorite Thanksgiving recipes, the residents of Euharlee are preparing to usher in Bartow’s holiday season with the 11th annual Festival of Trees. Through the event and the parade that precedes it, organizers continue to create accessible, old-fashioned memories for the community.
“I’ve helped out for the last four years and just kind of got addicted to it,” said Kathy Bibbings, co-founder of Just Believe Christmas for Kids Foundation, the festival’s latest presenter. “... I [assisted with] the marshmallow roast more than anything, and [it is wonderful] when you see families that can sit down by the fire and roast marshmallows and just really enjoy themselves and just spend hours sitting out by the fire as a family.
“You just don’t see a lot of that — families taking time out of their busy schedules to actually sit and spend time together as a family. And the kids’ faces just light up when they come in [the Euharlee Granary]. It’s just magical. It’s fun. Everybody has a good time. I just enjoy doing it. I just enjoy seeing the kids and even the adults. A lot of adults even make the comment of, ‘It brings me back to my childhood’ and the magic when you’re young and you just feel like that, ‘Oh, it is for real.’”
On Nov. 30, the festivities will begin as riding lawn mowers, tractors, wagons and other unconventional means of transportation are the entries of choice in the Euharlee Festival of Trees Parade. The event spotlights the participants’ creativity as they wind through the parade route on horses or decorated vehicles, such as golf carts, bicycles, motorcycles, floats and trailers.
“I think there [were] seven people in the original parade 11 years ago with riding lawn mowers and we’ve kind of progressed it from [there],” said Marshall Aiken, parade organizer. “... We want to be a little bit different and [offer] more of a hometown feel — especially the last five years with the economy being tight, where you ain’t got to go out and spend a whole lot of money to [enter the parade] and have a good time. I even say, ‘If you don’t have a ride to decorate, decorate yourself and the kids and walk in the parade.’
“There’s something a little bit different every year that stands out. One year [a] guy boxed in his entire 4-wheeler, so it looked like a giant Christmas present coming down the road ... which was just kind of neat. That and we had little miniature ponies dressed up with a little monkey riding on it one year.”
Parade participants will start lining up at Woodland Middle School, 1061 Euharlee Road, at 4:30 p.m. Departing at 5:30 p.m., the procession will travel down Euharlee Road, turn left on Covered Bridge Road and end at the Euharlee Covered Bridge for the beginning of the Euharlee Festival of Trees.
While all entrants younger than 12 need to be accompanied by an adult, youth younger than 16 must have parental supervision when riding a powered vehicle other than a riding lawn mower. There is no fee to participate and pre-registration is not required.
“You don’t know what [entries are] coming but you know there’s going to be people at the other end watching it,” Aiken said. “So it’s kind of nerve-racking, but exciting at the same time to see what people bring out.
“I’ve talked to certain people at the beginning of October and they already tell me, ‘Hey, I’m already starting [to decorate] for the parade.’ ... This is a yearly thing for them. [Overall], we just come out here to do it and have a good time. It’s just family-oriented, good fun.”
Based on previous Festival of Trees turnouts, Bibbings is expecting a large crowd at the Granary, 114 Covered Bridge Road in Euharlee. In 2011, more than 1,500 people attended the Festival of Trees on its opening night, with 450 visiting in its first hour. While a plethora of decorations and trees for auction await guests inside the Granary, the event also will feature Santa Claus and refreshments.
“As soon as [Santa] arrives ... he is the official opening of the festival,” she said, adding Santa usually is the parade’s final entry. “[The first night] is chaos. We could have up to 1,500 people there. They’re lined up and patiently waiting to go in. Some will leave and go up the street to Johnny Mitchell’s Smokehouse and have dinner and come back because they’ve been each year and they know that it’s going to take time to get in and get through.”
In its first year presenting the Festival of Trees, Just Believe Christmas for Kids Foundation will carry on the tradition of the event’s previous organizers — The Covered Bridge Players and the Margaret Montgomery Christmas 4 Kids Foundation — with proceeds helping provide Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in Bartow. There will be no admission charge but donations will be accepted.
From Nov. 30 to Dec. 14, about 23 Christmas trees and nearly five wreaths will be on display and up for auction at the Granary, with the last bids being placed on the event’s final night. The artificial trees will vary in size — 4 feet to 9 feet tall — and decorations.
During the festival’s two weeks, the trees will be available for viewing each Monday through Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 6 to 10 p.m. Santa will be available for visits each Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m.
“We’ve had a lot of help this year,” Bibbings said, referring to groups and individuals who have decorated and donated trees for the event. “It’s just something that everybody looks forward to every year. This year our trees are going to range anywhere from glitzy chic to primitive. And a big part of our theme this year has gone back to primitive and just traditional Christmas. ... The style and the rage now is the burlaps and old-fashioned look.
“There’s something just about for everybody. We’ve got some trees that are suitable for the teenage girl. We’ve got something that might appeal to a boy or even a younger girl for that matter ... and then, of course, the adults. [As far as tree decorations], we’ve got everything from shotgun shells to handmade muslin and burlap ornaments to pinecones and then traditional [items] — the balls, bells [and] those kinds of things.”
For more information about the Euharlee Festival of Trees, contact Bibbings at 770-315-2100 or email@example.com. Further details about the parade can be obtained by contacting Aiken at 770-382-6067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If the parade is rained out, it will be rescheduled for Dec. 7.