Harry & David's The Nutcracker Elegance Tree, designed and created by Brian Raymond and Amorette Rux, was the favorite at the 2016 Providence Festival of Trees. [Courtesy photo / Brian Raymond]

Expect surprises around the corner

Encountering an “unexpected wonderland,” visitors will tour a new floor plan and remodeled venue at this year’s Providence Festival of Trees.

"This year is going to be a big surprise,” says event committee member Kim O’Gara.

Organizers for several years have brainstormed strategies for infusing yet more excitement into the annual holiday benefit for Providence Community Health Foundation, O’Gara says. Changing the 26th annual event’s layout at the Medford Armory will enhance the visibility of each tree’s myriad details.

"We always try to have something new and fresh, and that surprise around the corner,” says O’Gara, who has been involved with the festival since its inception.

Also new this year, the Children's Holiday Store, presented by Cascade Wood Products, offers kids an opportunity to complete their holiday shopping with items priced at about $5 or less. The children’s store complements the crowd-pleasing Teddy Bear Hospital, where kids 12 and younger can run a full checkup on stuffed companions using an X-ray image box to see its heart and a broken bone for bandaging.

Themes that appeal to young and old alike will be evident this year in trees inspired by “Beauty and the Beast,” “Harry Potter,” Snoopy, unicorns and the DreamWorks movie “Trolls,” O’Gara says. Plenty of lavishly, traditionally decorated tannenbaums will be on hand, with more than 30 large trees and about 40 tabletop and miniature trees. Holiday mantelpieces and wreaths also will adorn the festive forest.

Trees designated for several special causes — cancer, charity care and the Swindells Resource Center — have been a tradition for the past three years, since the Providence foundation became the overall festival beneficiary. Last year’s effort raised more than $555,000 for programs and services at Providence Medford Medical Center. Total event proceeds have exceeded $8.5 million. Previous beneficiaries include Providence’s interventional recovery unit, Palliative Care, Spine Institute, BirthPlace, Carl Brophy Stroke Program and the da Vinci robotic surgical system.

Most trees go up for live and silent auction at the festival’s black-tie gala, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29. Tickets cost $150 per person with advance reservations. Call 541-732-5193.

After the 25th anniversary’s “glitz and glamor,” this year’s gala will be more “organic and simple,” O’Gara says. Guests will see a ticket price increase, however, for the holiday party, from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30. Acknowledging that raising the fee from $50 to $75 helps to offset costs, O’Gara says that paying a bit more to attend the “best cocktail party of the year” will heighten the spirit of contributing to a worthy cause. The evening of food, wine and beer also features raffle drawings, music and dancing.

Still more merrymaking and live performances — courtesy of local school and community bands, choirs and dance troupes — await at the festival’s public event, Friday through Sunday, Dec. 1-3. Among mainstay attractions are visits with Santa Claus, free of charge during all public-event hours. Photography with personal cameras is permitted; professional photos with Santa cost $5 apiece.

Adults 60 and older get in free Friday, sponsored by Southern Oregon Orthopedics. On Saturday, veterans and members of the military (with valid identification) will gain free entry, courtesy of Verizon Foundation. Kids 12 and younger get in free Sunday, sponsored by Lithia Motors.

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