LEEDS — It may only be early November, but the holiday season unofficially kicked off this weekend with the 24th annual Festival of Trees, hosted by the Fortnightly Club of Catskill.
Hundreds were drawn to Anthony’s Banquet Hall in Leeds for the annual event, which put 56 trees, 30 wreaths and other items up for a silent auction.
“I just love Christmas trees because they are so pretty and bright,” said Andrea DiBenedetto, of Athens, as she browsed among the dozens of decorated trees Saturday morning. “It makes me feel happy.”
Frances Miller, also of Athens, agreed. “It’s so bright and happy and joyful. I just love it,” Miller said.
The event began Thursday and will continue on Sunday. At 4 p.m. Sunday, the high bidders will be announced and will be allowed to take home the auction items they won.
Christa Bush, of the Fortnightly Club of Catskill, is one of the co-chairs of the Festival of Trees, now in its 24th year. Since 1995, the event has been held at several venues, including the Armory, the Elks Lodge, the former Friar Tuck restaurant, and for the past 10 or 12 years, Anthony’s Banquet Hall in Leeds, Bush said.
This year’s festival theme is “Merry and Bright.”
“All of the money we raise at the Festival of Trees goes right back into the community for all kinds of projects and other organizations that we support, like the arts, education, scholarships, food pantries, libraries,” Bush said. “Organizations and groups come to us and say they are trying to do something, and we do what we can to help them. It depends on how much we raise — we give away every single penny. No one in our organization is paid. We are all volunteers.”
The goal each year is to raise around $25,000 through the Festival of Trees. The trees themselves are sponsored by local businesses, organizations and individuals, and then volunteers from around the community decorate them. The work begins early each year, Bush said.
“We purchase the trees on Black Friday. So we literally start planning this event the day after Thanksgiving for the following year,” she said.
Lisa Leone-Beers, co-chair of the Festival of Trees, has been volunteering for the event since she joined the Fortnightly Club of Catskill in 2012.
“It’s an amazing organization of 35 active women and 70 honoraries that all work together so we can support the community and have events like this,” Leone-Beers said. “Even though we are exhausted by Sunday night, when you hear how well we did and all the people who came to the event, it gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling.”
Bonnie Caro, another co-chair for the event, also started volunteering with the Fortnightly Club and the festival in 2012. In addition to working with the auction itself, Caro also helps organize the two breakfasts with Santa Claus on Saturday and Sunday.
“It brings in the holiday spirit,” Caro said of the festival.
Other local groups get in on the action as well, such as the chorus and band from Catskill High School, both of which performed on Saturday.
And, of course, what Christmas event would be complete without a visit from The Big Guy, Santa Claus? Brooke Pfeiffer, 1 1/2, of Greenville, had the chance to visit with Santa on Saturday morning.
“This is our first year because we just moved to Greenville,” her mom, Jessica Bland, of Greenville, said. “My favorite tree so far is the animal tree, and Brooke likes the Grinch one, because she tried to grab the Grinch off the tree.”