The Maryland State Fairgrounds will transform into a winter wonderland this holiday weekend as designers display hundreds of decorated trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses at the Festival of Trees.
The 33rd annual festival will return in person for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, running from Nov. 25-27. The three-day event will benefit the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s patients, students, and programs.
“For the past two years, Festival fans enjoyed a hybrid event that was adapted to provide families safe festival fun during the pandemic,” Kennedy Krieger Institute President and CEO Brad Schlaggar said in a statement. “Now, we are very excited to again bring everyone the joy of the holiday season through our in-person, three-day event.”
Attendees can purchase tickets for this year’s Festival of Trees here.
The festival will feature a carousel, rides, and games for kids. Meanwhile, adults can shop holiday gifts and enter an online auction and a raffle, including a Maryland Lottery scratch-off tree as one of the prizes.
Becky Batta is the lead designer of one of this year’s groups, The Batta Ladies, a bunch of friends from Severna Park who are decorating a festival tree for their 8th year.
Batta and her friends started attending the Festival of Trees several years ago with their children. Over the years, Batta bought several trees from the festival, including trees themed around Broadway and The Wizard of Oz.
In 2015, the group decided to create their own tree to donate to the festival: a two-foot tree with a cocktail theme, including cocktail ornaments made with clay and a miniature bottle with angel wings as the tree topper.
Since then, decorating the trees has become an annual tradition for the friends, tying them together as their children grow older and begin lives of their own.
“It’s a great way to start the holiday experience,” Batta said. “I like being together to decorate the tree and then visiting the festival and seeing everyone else’s trees. The funds raised go to a great cause.
The Batta Ladies include Batta herself; her two daughters, Christy Fisher and Jenny Batta; and a group of their friends. One of the friends, Jo Chesson, creates quilted tree skirts for each year’s tree.
“This is our 8th year decorating a tree,” Batta said. “This year’s tree is Chasing Rainbows. It’s based on the Dolly Parton quote, ‘The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with rain.’ It will have multi-colored lights with rainbow colored ornaments.”
The Batta Ladies’ trees from previous years have included a Carol of the Bells-themed tree, with various bell ornaments and a large bell on top. The Unofficial Hand Lettering Society of Silver Spring assisted the group by lettering quotes from the carol done in gold and silver onto the ornaments.
Another year, they decorated a tree inspired by The Polar Express, with bells that were given to children.
“The Polar Express tree had a conductor’s hat on top and a train running around the base,” Batta said. “We also had hot chocolate in the clear ornaments and the garland was a string of fold tickets that said ‘Believe.’ This tree won an Honorable mention ribbon from the judging committee.”
Linda Schaefer Cameron, vice president of philanthropy at Kennedy Krieger, said seeing the new tree designs each year is her favorite part of the festival.
“Some of last year’s designs were amazing,” Cameron said. “There was a tree that had a train running through it. There was a tree decorated like a hot dog, and another with a wedding dress. Many of our longtime designers work year-round on their ideas, and many design groups include extended family members or lifelong friends who participate together every year.”
The events company Revolution helps with the festival’s logistics, and Kennedy Krieger’s own events team starts working over the summer on details such as the floor plan and signage. Then, one week before the festival, designers set up their trees at the Cow Palace at the fairgrounds, Cameron said.
“This is a magical weekend as we watch their designs take shape before us,” Cameron said, “and for us, it’s one of our favorite times of the year.”