McKinley Christmas set for Saturday
Festival of Trees returns to Niles
NILES — For the first time in more than 20 years, the McKinley Memorial Museum auditorium is filled with Christmas trees decorated by community organizations for the Festival of Trees.
Museum Director Amber Farris said the event is something she wanted to do since she took her position at the museum two years ago, not knowing the Festival of Trees was an old tradition apparently discontinued in the mid-1990s.
“I didn’t know we did something like this previously,” Farris. said. In planning the event this year, she found a 1993 brochure for the Festival of Trees, which listed musical events like string bands and the Warren G. Harding High School Madrigal singers.
Now, 10 local organizations have decorated trees in an effort to resurrect the event. Some, like the Red Cross, are “legacies” who participated in the festival years ago. Others, like local disc golf clubs are newcomers. Many organizations that participated in the event in the 1990s no longer exist, Farris said.
“What I’ve sensed is the community has changed and there’s maybe not as much interest, but we can’t help but try,” Farris said.
Jean Williams, director of Niles Community Services, said she’s glad to see the event revived.
“We’re pleased that they reactivated the Festival of Trees. It’s nice to have it back in the community,” Williams said. Niles Community Services decorated one of the trees on display with 250 $1 lottery tickets or a theme of “holiday cash grows on trees.”
Williams said it’s a theme the organization has often used over the years, often placing smaller lottery ticket trees in local businesses as a fundraiser.
People buy raffle tickets to win the trees and the lottery tickets, and funds go back to the holiday program at Niles Community Services, which gives gifts to area children and food to families in need. This year, one such tree is located at Scenna’s Restaurant on North State Street in Girard.
After the Festival of Trees concludes, the lottery tickets on the festival tree will be given to people registered with Community Services.
As part of the Festival of Trees and McKinley Christmas — a multi-location event running noon to 4 p.m. Saturday — the museum is accepting donations of boxes of cereal for Community Services, which Williams said is providing food to 550 families this holiday season.
“We’re going to give each family two boxes of cereal this year,” Williams said.
Farris said during McKinley Christmas, those who hit each holiday stop — the museum, McKinley Birthplace Home and the Ward-Thomas House — and donate a box of cereal will be eligible for a basket of goods donated by participating organizations. Those attending McKinley Christmas will receive a passport and can collect stamps at each location and a stamp for donating cereal.
The seventh annual McKinley Christmas includes a 2 p.m. performance by Dana Guitar Trio, crafts, hot cocoa and cookies, a self-guided tour and a scavenger hunt at the McKinley Birthplace Home and stories with Mrs. Claus and tours of the house and barn at the Ward-Thomas House.
Santa will be at the McKinley Memorial Museum until 2 p.m., when he will head to the McKinley Birthplace home. A trolley will be running from location to location throughout the event.
At the museum, in addition to the Festival of Trees, White House Historical Association annual ornaments from 1981 to the present will be on display, as well as Christmas art from Niles McKinley High School students themed around the McKinley Memorial. The top three student artworks will be awarded cash prizes and may be featured on museum Christmas cards next year, Farris said.
Belles and Beaux will be performing at the museum at 2 p.m., and President McKinley will make an appearance around 3 p.m.
“You’re not going to be able to walk out of here without a smile on your face,” Farris said.
Residents can vote this week and during the event for the best-decorated festival tree. The best tree will win a McKinley Museum prize basket, and one voter ticket will be drawn to win a 2019 White House Historical Association ornament, according to Farris.
Farris said the trees’ decorations are largely handmade, and some of them include information about the organizations that decorated them.
“Half are decorative, half are informative,” said Farris, who said that the museum tree explains the significance of carnations in reference to William McKinley.
The McKinley Library tree is decorated with ornaments made from withdrawn books, including a large paper star and paper angels. Kitty Robison, who does tech services at the library, said she and co-workers Linda Isaac and Michelle Bell spent about three weeks working off and on to create the ornaments.
“We used old books to turn into something new for the tree,” said Robison. “We wanted to tie the library into the Christmas season.”
Other organizations that decorated trees include Chemical Bank, Albie’s Floral, Niles Tent and Table and Altobelli Real Estate. Festival of Trees will remain on display during museum hours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, through Jan. 10.