Depending on your age or how long you’ve been there, there are many Gardner Christmas traditions that evoke warm memories of yesteryear.
Shoppers could sometimes find Santa Claus listening to the children’s Christmas greetings in the former Sears and Roebuck store on Parker Street.
Others may remember the Christmas parties held for children at the Orpheum Theater or the Perry Auditorium at Town Hall for the number of stores and furniture factories in town.
And no shopping trip to Goodnow Pearson would be complete without a trip down the level to visit Jocko the Monkey.
However, more recent Christmas keepsakes are being made these days at the Gardner Museum for its annual Festival of Trees.
This year will mark the 16th time the festival has taken place, having been absent last year due to the COVID shutdown. Instead, the museum ran a very successful fall and Christmas gift shop from September through December with items donated by festival members, non-members and donors.
âEveryone was so excited when we said we were going forward this year. Even the donors were happy, âsaid Festival President Janet Stankaitis. “We are delighted that he is back.”
The idea for the Festival of Trees was born from the late Mary Liptrap, a retired teacher who volunteered with the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce. She was the one who first approached the museum with the idea of ââhosting it as a fundraiser.
She was aware of such a festival being held in the town of Methuen but realized that the House did not have the staff or the space to host one.
Museum members Don and Doris Gearan, Warren and Tanya Barnett and Ms. Stankaitis visited the Methuen Festival, held on a large scale in a civic center with over 200 donated trees. Proceeds from their festival, including raffles, gift shop and snack bar, raised up to $ 100,000.
âWhen we spoke to the Methuen committee members, they suggested we try a gingerbread fair for the first year,â Ms. Stankaitis recalls. âWell we didn’t and went head-first with a full festival. They probably didn’t want a competition.
The museum board decided to go all out with the festival as Ms Liptrap chaired the group and formed a committee consisting of Tanya Barnett, Kathleen Bliss, Lorraine Brodeur, Diane Ewing, Doris Gearan, Janet Guzzetta, Cathy Harasimowicz, Roberta Lesperance, Barbara Tourigny, Kay Venning, Ann Young and Ms. Stankaitis.
On the night of November 15, 2005, the first Tree Festival opened with 60 trees and a dollhouse donated by the Vietnam Veterans Chapter 907, which was also drawn.
The main sponsor was Henshaw and Haley Real Estate, while other event sponsors included Mack Family Funeral Home, Colonial Cooperative Bank, People’s Fuel, Mount Wachusett Community College, The Gardner News and Carriage House, which hosted the large buffet. of the opening night.
âWe jumped on the deck with all hands,â said Stankaitis. “Mary was so energetic and had so many great ideas for organizing things, but unfortunately she went to the hospital the same day we opened.”
Sadly, two months after the first Festival of Trees ended, Ms Liptrap passed away and Ms Stankaitis took over the presidency, a role she has been playing since 2006.
âWithout Mary’s energy, ideas and commitment, the festival would not have been as successful as it has become,â said Ms. Stankaitis, who noted that the festival’s 10th anniversary in 2015 had been held in honor of Mrs. Liptrap. “I hope she looks down on us and is proud of what we’ve done with the event over the years.”
Over time the sponsors changed with Brideau Oil buying People’s Oil and Colonial Cooperative being bought by Fidelity Bank, each becoming new sponsors. In addition, Chair City Oil and Anthony’s Liquor Mart have recently joined us as sponsors.
âWe can’t say enough about our sponsors, donors of trees, baskets and other items,â Ms. Stankaitis said. âMany of our donors come from other communities and even out of state. “
She also praised Museum President Scott Huntoon, Museum Coordinator Marion Knoll and the many guides and ticket vendors for their help in so many ways over the years.
âMany visitors say our festival is their go-to event every year to kick off the holiday season,â she said. âWe have people from Worcester, Leominster and everywhere who see this as the start of their holiday season. They just want to be part of a beautiful holiday tradition.
Although some of the names have changed over the years, the current committee members are Lou Ann Bankowski, Roberta Borkowski, Cindy Boucher, Pam Canu, Gina Kelley, Jan Korhonen, Flo LeBlanc, Karla LeBlanc, Pat McAllister, Nettie Roy, Susan Roy, Victoria Straitt, Mary Tourigny and Maureen Walsh, as well as original committee members Tanya Jacques, Roberta Lesperance, Ann Young and Ms. Stankaitis.
âThey are so energized and our young people bring a lot of great ideas and that’s what we need to keep going,â Ms. Stankaitis said.
The highlight of each year is seeing the museum filled with decorated trees, with some families and organizations choosing different themes and ideas. There are also quilts, gift baskets, carpentry items and a rocking Dalmatian built by museum member Paul LeBlanc.
The Festival of Trees is the Gardner Museum’s primary fundraiser to keep the organization and local history alive.
“We are a non-profit organization and we do not receive any municipal, state or federal funding,” said Ms. Stankaitis, who added. âWe are delighted to be back this year.
The festival will open on November 10 and run until December 4. Hours will be Wednesday and Thursday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Friday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Masks will be compulsory.
Sadly, the annual tradition of having Santa Claus make his annual visit, as well as the holiday cafe, will not take place this year due to COVID protocols, but the committee is hoping he can return. next year.
âIt takes a village to plan and organize this successful event,â said Ms. Stankaitis. âWe look forward to seeing many familiar faces again, as well as many new ones. “
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