For many years, the Festival of Trees has ushered in the start of the holiday season for families throughout the Seaside community.

Wanting to preserve the tradition despite the challenges of 2020, the Providence Seaside Hospital Foundation provided “a reimagined event” that captured key elements from seasons past under the timely theme, “Home for the Holidays.”

The vision for the Festival of Trees Committee was to keep it as much the same as they were able, Executive Director Kimberly Ward said.

Instead of inviting patrons inside the Seaside Civic and Convention Center for a fun-filled open house and lavish fundraising event, the organizers presented a scaled down version that involved a physically distanced community tree-viewing and virtual gala and auction on Dec. 5.

A challenging year

Instead of the usual 16 to 20 custom-designed trees, the 23rd annual Festival of Trees had only eight, all of which were sponsored by local individuals and businesses. However, the effort that the organizations, designers, florists and volunteers contributed to decorate each individual tree was in no way scaled back.

“Nothing has changed — the trees are as stunning as they are every year,” Ward said.

The designers put a whimsical spin on this year’s theme. One elaborate display, sponsored by the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce, included a life-sized replica of the Grinch attempting to steal the tree and suck presents and decorations down a giant tube. Hanging from the tree, wooden signs were positioned to read “2020 Stink, Stank, Stunk.”

Each group, Ward said, was “really trying to have fun and be joyful about all the challenges we’ve faced this year.”

The trees were lined up in the Necanicum Room, which has a large, eastward-facing window.

On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — the time that would normally be reserved for the community open house and “Candy Cane Lane” — the public was invited to stroll along the sidewalk between the Necanicum River and the convention center and view the exquisite trees.

Children received bags with a cookie to decorate and a couple craft projects, including a birdhouse donated by Child’s Play in Cannon Beach.

Organizers wanted to give children and families “a piece of festival to take home with them,” which was reminiscent of the arts, crafts and activities normally offered on Candy Cane Lane, Ward said.

The Festival of Trees gala and auction, a fundraiser for Providence’s campaign to expand cardiac services on the North Coast, also looked different this year.

The virtual event was a mixture of live-streaming from the convention center, prerecorded clips featuring Providence executives, and short musical performances by Amos Lee, Storm Large and Aaron Meyer and the Brown Sisters.

Mark Nelsen, the Fox 12 weatherman, emceed the event onsite at the convention center. Mark Schenfeld, of Stokes Auction Group, was the auctioneer.

The virtual gala still involved several staples of the traditional event: raffle drawings for a wine tree and an extended trip to one of five destinations, as well as a silent auction featuring donations from local businesses. The trees and their respective gift packages were also auctioned off.

The silent auction featured a noticeably smaller quantity of items this year, which was intentional, Ward said.

Unlike in previous years, the organizers didn’t “pound the pavement” asking for donations, although they still received several from willing participants, Ward said.

“We recognize small businesses are hurting, and we wanted to be respectful of that,” she added.

‘A Reimagined Event’

The Festival of Trees Committee met in mid-March to discuss this year’s event. Even then, Ward said, they anticipated it would differ because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They decided then to change course and organize a virtual festival.

“As a healthcare organization, it was our responsibility to do this event as safely as possible,” Ward said, adding it was the best alternative, “given we didn’t know what would be going on with COVID in December.”

Looking back, she is grateful they made the decision when they did. Had they pursued holding the event in-person, it likely would’ve been canceled or they would’ve had less times for making adjustments.

As it was, the committee had several months to collaborate with the organizers of the Portland and Southern Oregon festivals.

“It’s been a really incredible process of learning a completely different way of putting on an event,” she said.

One benefit of doing a virtual event, she added, was increased accessibility. Anyone could tune-in to the gala for free, and they could watch from the comfort of their own home, regardless of location. Leading up to the festival, people registered who had not attended a gala in years past.

“We have such a generous community, and I think they’re ready to have something to look forward to,” Ward said.

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