Festival of Trees History
Almost as magical as Santa himself, a cold barren exhibit hall transforms into a warm, festive holiday haven. Each year, the magic of Festival of Trees unfolds, and with it the hope and future of children in need at Primary Children's Medical Center.
The Festival of Trees was inspired over 40 years ago by a group of 15 women from along the Wasatch Front. These women were challenged by Lewis M. Jones, Chairman of the hospital's Men's Endowment Board, to identify a way to raise funds for the hospital.
Organized as the Women's Endowment Committee and led by Betty Wells, the group sold tickets to the Ice Capades and dabbled in other projects in an attempt to raise funds. They soon determined they had spent too much time and energy for too little return. They searched for one project they could devote all their efforts on. That project was inspired when Co-chair Ruth Flint vacationed in Hawaii and attended a Christmas boutique featuring small, decorated Christmas trees, centerpieces, and Christmas decorations. The Women's Endowment Committee expanded the concept to include full-sized decorated Christmas trees, a gift boutique, and a sweet shop. Each of the 15 members of the Endowment Committee was challenged to identify those who would donate and decorate trees.
At that time, Primary Children's Hospital was owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and much of the support would come from church members. That first year, there were approximately 60 trees for display and sale in the gymnasium of the old Armory off Sunnyside Avenue. To everyone's surprise and delight, $47,000 was raised!
The Festival of Trees quickly outgrew the Armory and two years later it was moved to the Salt Palace. Now, it is held at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy, Utah. Over the years, this beautiful event has blossomed into a forest of more than 700 trees, a gift boutique featuring handmade articles, a sweet shop filled with freshly made candies and baked goods, a display of wreaths and door decorations, centerpieces, gingerbread houses, and backyard playhouses. There is also Santa, activities for children, hot scones and sweet rolls, and continuous live entertainment. In all, the Festival spans over 220,000 square feet of display space.
Perhaps the greatest phenomenon of all is that everything is donated. The trees are decorated and purchased by individuals, families, organizations, businesses, and church groups. In addition, others generously donate items to fill the shops. Businesses provide the paper and printing of posters and tickets. Corporations offer their covered trucks and drivers to help deliver the trees, and so much more! Thousands of people join efforts by contributing countless hours and means to give “A Gift of Love" to children in need. In 2012, the Festival raised $1,871,546.91 for children at Primary Children's Medical Center.
The name of the Women's Endowment Committee was changed to Women's Endowment Board and finally to the Festival of Trees Executive Board. Currently, 85 women serve on the Board and each of them organizes committees of 10 or more volunteers throughout the state. While the hospital no longer has a Men's Endowment Board, those men were considered “inspired” when they called women to seize the challenge.
Over the years, Festival of Trees has been copied many times throughout the United States and Canada. However, the Salt Lake City Festival of Trees remains the "granddaddy" of them all.