The Annual Tradition Continues
Working quickly, decorators from all over the Mid-Ohio Valley decked the halls at The Blennerhassett Hotel. Trees filled the ballrooms, swags laced the mantles and wreaths adorned every corner while the decorators completed the daunting task of bringing The Festival of Trees to life, socially distant, of course.
At first it seemed like the 31 year tradition of the Festival of Trees might not happen this winter, but with determination and many long hours, it went on as scheduled with a few minor changes. Benefitting The United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, The Blennerhassett Hotel will host the 44 piece display until the Dec. 10 charity auction.
Due to circumstances beyond the control of The Blennerhassett Hotel and The United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, decorators were only given two and a half weeks to prepare their displays before setup. However, the Mid-Ohio Valley stepped up to the challenge of preserving the event that has transcended generations.
“The Blennerhassett reached out to us and asked if we would step in as the organizer and benefactor to save the tradition. It has been a daunting task. No information was available to turn over to us so we started from scratch with just two and a half weeks to go,” The United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley Executive Director Stacy DeCicco said. “The community stepped up and responded in amazing fashion – we are so humbled. Businesses, sponsors, volunteer decorators and installation teams – they all worked tirelessly for nearly 48 hours straight last week to get the trees decorated and in place along with the advance work planning, imagining and shopping for their tree.”
For The Blennerhassett Hotel, the tradition is an integral part of the hotel’s history, and preserving that history is important to them.
“The Festival of Trees is an important part of our holiday traditions here at the hotel because of how it brings our community together and gets everyone into the holiday spirit. When you hear about The Festival of Trees, people automatically know it is being held at The Blennerhassett Hotel, and we strive to keep it that way for years to come. We look forward to hosting the festival every year and knowing that all financial contributions, made by generous donations and at the tree auction, are going to a charitable organization is even better,” Event Sales and Marketing Supervisor James Liebau said.
Many local businesses and individuals gathered to decorate the trees this year packing the hotel with tangible Christmas spirit. Mid-Ohio Valley resident Jason Wyers participated in the trimming of two trees and one wreath this year. He completed a peacock themed tree sponsored by McHappy’s and a patriotic themed tree sponsored by Kraton.
“My favorite parts of this year’s festival were being asked to design the entries, being asked to do two completely different styles and themes, and having the opportunity to share my experience of decorating in the White House Christmas 2019 with others while working and using similar techniques such as the explosion bows,” Wyers said. “I also had the opportunity to work alongside my friend and amazing artist and designer, Melissa Maidens. Projects often require assistance and when you have a friend that “just knows” and has an amazing eye, you’re truly blessed.”
Each designer works tirelessly to bring the spirit of the holidays to each of their displays. Their work is shared with people from all over the area who travel to see the trees each year including locals and those from out of town.
“We are happy to see guests in the thousands coming to the hotel for The Festival of Trees every year. It surprises me to see how far some guests travel to attend the festival as well; this year we have had guests from Columbus and Pittsburgh,” Liebau said. “I feel that the festival is a great example of what downtown Parkersburg has and can offer. The traffic that the event brings to downtown can be used as an opportunity for other businesses, organizations and individuals to join in on the festivities and even have events of their own throughout the year.”
The owners of The Blennerhassett Hotel, Lee Rector and Wayne Waldeck, believe that the hotel is Parkersburg’s downtown anchor which places a great responsibility on the venue to create activities that entice the entire community to visit the downtown area. For them, the fact that the festival is free is so important because it allows anyone to enjoy the trees and historical beauty of the hotel which they consider a much-needed spirit lift this season.
“This year, more than ever, after several months of isolation or solitude, it is important that we can experience some traditional activities for some sense of normalcy. Now with everyone practicing extra caution in public spaces, The Blennerhassett Hotel stands out as an example of how with proper COVID-19 protocol, we can still gather together,” Rector said. “And, possibly the best reason for this annual celebration, is the fact that it produces substantial funds for our local charity to use in the community.”
For DeCicco and the rest of the event’s organizers, the event may bring plenty of holiday spirit, but its roots remain in the true spirit of the season.
“Our work addresses critical needs in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Our United Way has a tangible impact on the health, education, and financial stability of our communities. Each year we are tasked with raising a campaign that supports that mission. Adding the Festival of Trees as a signature fundraiser is an incredible opportunity to strengthen our campaign and ensure that our critical work continues,” DeCicco said.
The hotel will host the auction on Dec. 10 as a hybrid event with both live and virtual options. Those who choose the live stream access will receive a party pack of food as well. In the meantime, People’s Choice voting is already underway. Visitors can cast their vote with cash into ballot boxes or for those who prefer to use a digital method, they can utilize the QR code option and donate via credit or debit card. Keeping in line with the digital trends, participants can begin advance bidding by visiting the United Way’s website where they will find a gallery of trees. New this year, auction participants will be able to place and view current bids up until the day of the auction. This will determine where the live bids start on Dec. 10. Tickets are available for the event by visiting the United Way’s website.