Dive into sights, sounds of the holidays at Festival of Trees

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Visitors can enjoy dozens of beautifully-decorated trees, holiday music, treats and more at McGregor’s 10th annual Festival of Trees. The event will kick off at Backwoods on Dec. 5 with the special Dessert Among the Trees, followed by two full days of activities on Dec. 6 and 7. (North Iowa Times file photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Dive into the sights, sounds and smells of the holiday season during McGregor’s annual Festival of Trees, held Dec. 5-7 at the Backwoods Event Center.

Now in its 10th year, the celebration has grown considerably since it was first started by the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts (MMCA). There were around 20 trees then, displayed at the art center’s previous location next to the library, recalled one of the organizers, Anne Kruse. This year’s event will feature 45 live conifers, all lovingly decorated by local businesses, organizations and individuals—creating an illuminated winter wonderland unlike any other area display.

“It really kicks off the Christmas season,” Kruse shared.

Festivities will begin Thursday, Dec. 5, with Dessert Among the Trees. Held from 6 to 8 p.m., the event allows people to catch a sneak peak of the trees. A ticket will also get you a specialty dessert, choice of beverage and holiday musical entertainment.

Dessert Among the Trees was held for the first time last year, “and it was so successful we wanted to do it again,” Kruse said. “We look forward to it being even bigger this year.”

Tickets can be purchased at the door, but attendees are encouraged to purchase them early by calling (563) 873-1125 or visiting the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce office, McGregor Public Library or McGregor City Hall.

On Friday, Dec. 6, people can begin viewing trees at noon. Festival-goers can vote for their favorites in one of two categories, mostly homemade and mostly store-bought, and also make bids to take a tree home at the end of the weekend. Vendor booths will be set up at this time too, offering crafts and other gifts.

Activities Friday evening will include several musical performances and sing-a-longs, beginning at 6 p.m. 

The popular “Spirits of Christmas” pub crawl will run from 4 to 8 p.m. For this adult-only event, a small fee entitles participants to sample-size holiday drinks at eight McGregor establishments: Steve’s Silver Dollar, Josie’s River Queen, Latinos Mexican Restaurant, Old Man River Restaurant and Brewery, Pocket City Pub, Backwoods Bar and Grill, Riverview and the American Legion. 

Once you’ve filled your “passport” and voted for your favorite drink, return it to the Festival of Trees to be entered into a drawing for a cash prize worth 20 percent of the total tickets sold. Forty percent of ticket sales will be donated to Festival of Trees’ chosen charities for this year, which are Quilts of Valor, the Snack Pack Food Program, the MMCA Arts After School Program and the McGregor Historical Museum. The remaining 40 percent will be awarded as a prize to the establishment whose drink receives the most votes from pub crawlers.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Kruse said, “and the businesses are getting very creative with their drinks.”

On Saturday, Dec. 7, the event center will open at 9 a.m., for tree viewing, vendor booths and a bake sale. Backwoods will offer a special holiday luncheon. Children’s activities, including gingerbread house-making, Christmas piñata fun and photos with Santa, will go from 2 to 4 p.m. “Santa’s Combo” and the Victorian carolers will provide musical entertainment starting at 6 p.m. At 8 p.m., the winning tree bids and the highest-voted trees will be announced.

Festival of Trees activities at the event center are free of charge, Kruse stressed. 

“They’re family oriented, and they provide entertainment without breaking the pocket book,” she said. “Plus, it’s a way to give back to the community,” with all proceeds from Festival of Trees benefitting the local charities noted above.

Festival of Trees is sponsored by The Left Bank Shop and Gallery (MMCA), McGregor Historical Museum and Clan McGregor for Community Enrichment. For more information, check out the ad in this week’s paper or visit the “Festival of Trees - McGregor, Iowa” Facebook page.

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