On Thursday, November 15, individuals, families, businesses, churches, community leaders and local organizations gathered at Novant Health Matthews Medical Center for the Festival of Trees Tree Lighting Ceremony.
Now in its 10th year, The Festival of Trees is a highly anticipated event every year featuring over 50 trees donated and decorated by individuals, businesses and organizations. The tree lighting ceremony takes place annually the Thursday before Thanksgiving.
“It actually started with the vision a little over ten years go that we wanted to create an event in our community that would be not about our medical center but about the joyful part of our season,” says Novant Health Matthews President Roland Bibeau. “The goal we have for this event is we want you to leave your worries outside.”
Festive music provided by Charlotte Academy of Music students, pianist Nell Pait and saxophonist Ben Tozier filled the lobby as the crowd grew on Thursday evening. Shortly after 5:30, those gathered in the lobby received a treat: Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus arrived, waving to the crowd as they made their way to the community room led by their elves.
The official Tree Lighting Ceremony began at 6:00 pm with a welcome from Bibeau. After an invocation and blessing from Chaplain Hunter Roddey and remarks from Matthews Mayor Paul Bailey and Chief of Staff Thomas Zban came the highlight of Thursday’s program: the lighting of the trees.
This year’s special guest to help light the trees was Makayla Macklin. This is the second year that Novant Health Matthews has invited a child from Hemby Children’s Hospital to step on stage to assist with the countdown and tree lighting. “We actually did that for the first time last year,” says Bibeau. “The excitement from them and the family is just beyond, so we decided, hey, let’s do it again this year!”
The festivities continued after the trees were lit with more live music, hot cocoa and treats, a visit from the Chick-fil-A cows, and, of course, time for children to visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus. As has become tradition at Novant Health Matthews, Santa stays as long as it takes to see each and every child waiting to visit with him.
This year’s event featured a few changes from prior years. In an attempt to decompress the crowd and make the event flow better, Santa moved to the community room while refreshments were available in the cafe. For the first year, you’ll see lighted trees outside the hospital: ten trees to signify the festival’s tenth anniversary.
The Festival of Trees is not only an opportunity to congregate and celebrate; it’s also a fundraiser for the community. Many of the 58 trees on display in the lobby are auctioned off. “Those donations are put in a pot, and usually four to five local nonprofits that participate in this event, we dispense the money for their need in the community,” says Bibeau. “We also donate on average nine to fourteen trees to needy families after the event.”
Everyone is welcome to visit the hospital and enjoy the creative and original trees this holiday season. Bidding on auctionable trees will end at 12:00 pm on Monday, December 3. Some trees will remain up through Christmas, but starting December 17, auction winners can collect their trees, so visit before December 16 for the best viewing experience.