The Midcoast Tree Festival was created in 2019 as a collaborative community event between Spectrum Generations (Meals on Wheels), All Saint’s Parish (St. John’s School) and the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber. Though it was billed as a “Win-Tree Wonderland,” it became so much more than that. As we head into our second year we wanted to share some highlights from last year, so you can see the powerful, positive effect it’s had already in our region.

At its heart, the festival is a family event where we bring some of the best aspects of the holiday season together. There are decorative trees, wreaths, hot chocolate, crafts, elves, Santa, music of the season and presents. These are all things that families love and we intentionally priced the event so it could be affordable for families to attend and participate. At $2 per person over 12 to get in, and 50 cents per ticket, the festival is a great time for families looking to catch the holiday spirit.

More than that though, the festival showed how many businesses in our region are willing to give back to communities. Each tree space required a minimum of $500 worth of prizes and decorations, and several tree spaces were twice that. We also had over a dozen wreaths donated by local non-profits. Each tree and wreath were filled with the pride of those that presented them.

At the end of it all, when we drew the winners, nearly 50 families won a tree space or a wreath. One winner stuck with me.

In the last hour of, I believe, the second Friday, two parents came in with 5-8 children in tow. Our volunteers were welcoming, if not a bit weary from the busy day, and these parents brought the energy and the spirit we all needed. I don’t know if all of the children were theirs — maybe some of their children’s friends were mixed in — but being an onlooker there was a lot of love in the group, so even if they weren’t biologically from the same clan, they were clearly a family.

They went around hopping to the music, checking out the trees, dropping tickets in the tree poles, working on crafts and just enjoying the space. They left just as happily, with smiles and laughter, skipping off into the night.

That second Sunday night, after the tickets were drawn, and the Community Center was three-quarters empty from winners coming to collect their winnings, a man came in with his son.

“We got a call that we won one of the trees?” We immediately recognized him as the father from the other night. The son says, “did we win the one with the fire pit?” as that tree space had yet to be claimed.

“Nope.” The son’s face fell. “Oh,” he muttered.

“You won one of the chamber trees with multiple gifts with this hat, sweatshirt, these gift certificates and the Captain America shield.”

“What?!” the son said.

“We won the Captain America shield, buddy!” the dad exclaimed.

And we watched the father and son run around the community center euphoric in their good fortune. I still have the picture in my phone of the son posing proudly with the shield. It’s a reminder of why we do events like these.

And that’s just one story. There are dozens of others. There was the couple who donated over 80 hours between them, because they ‘just love Christmas’. There was the little girl who was too scared to meet Santa, until the fourth try when she worked up the courage to walk all the way across the stage and hand him her list. And there was the 50/50 winner who donated her winnings to a mother of two children behind her in the tree ticket line- they had never met. Calling that mother to tell her a stranger was gifting her money was unforgettable.

The Midcoast Tree Festival did more for our communities then we ever thought possible in its first year. It highlighted the best of our community spirit, and brought the best out in all of us- whether that be through our businesses, our volunteers, or our guests.

We’re bringing back the festival in 2020. It won’t be as easy as last year; it seems nothing in 2020 is as easy as it was before. Yet, we could all use some good in our lives right now. We could all use something to escape to. We could all use something that brings out our better angels and shows the community members that we really care for one another. We hope you will help be a part of it again if you can, whether you’re a business, a family, a volunteer, a child or just someone who needs a little something fun to look forward to this holiday season.

If you’re a business or organization who would like to get a tree space or sponsorship, contact me at the chamber (725-8797; [email protected]) or check out the festival tab on our website at www.midcoastmaine.com

We’re still finalizing what our changes will be in 2020 with the state of Maine; safety during Covid-19 is paramount. We’re adding an online element this year so people can view the trees on a brand-new website before they drop by. We’re working on a way to do online ticketing, but need special approval of some aspects of that from State officials. Of course, we’ll be on-site too, but with a limit of 50 people in the “Win-Tree Wonderland” we will need to have strict occupancy limits and more rigorous cleaning protocols. But we promise, we will find a way.

Next week, I will highlight the incredible business impacts of the festival. Stay tuned on Facebook for the latest updates on the 2nd Annual Midcoast Tree Festival, November 20-22, and November 27-29, at St. John’s Community Center in Brunswick.

Cory R. King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

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