FARMINGTON — It's not truly Christmas until the tree goes up.
Melissa Sharpe, the co-chair of the annual Festival of Trees, remembers moments over the years when people have broken down in tears after winning a Christmas tree at the holiday event. For some, it was the only way they could afford a tree.
"It seems like there's at least one person a year who's really touched," Sharpe said.
The Festival of Trees kicks off Wednesday evening with a free health fair at the Farmington Civic Center. Presbyterian Medical Services has organized the holiday celebration for 11 years, and it was previously run by San Juan Regional Medical Center. The four-day festival provides the public a chance to view elaborately decorated Christmas trees and participate in a number of holiday events, including a Teddy Bear Tea, Family Night and health fair. Throughout the festival, people can buy raffle tickets. On Saturday, a raffle winner is chosen to take home a decorated tree.
The health fair was added to the event last year and was an immediate success, Sharpe said. At the fair, each PMS program will have a table and provide services. Last year, a man was sent to the emergency room after staff discovered his dangerously high blood pressure during the fair, Sharpe said.
The Festival of Trees will feature 35 to 45 decorated Christmas trees. Members of the community donate the trees, and they are later auctioned off. People have until Monday to enter their decorated tree in the show.
"The ones that stand out the most are the ones with the handmade decorations," Sharpe said.
She remembers one tree that had ornaments depicting different New Mexico missions and another with handmade bird house ornaments.
Raffle tickets are also sold during the event, and a drawing Saturday will determine who wins each decorated tree.
Last year, PMS raised $31,500 at the Festival of Trees events. The funds support PMS programs, which range from birth to end of life care.
One of the trees available is a money tree. The person who wins the money tree receives $500.
One year, Sharpe recalls, a woman won the tree and burst into tears. The woman was in pain after some botched dental work and used the $500 to fix her teeth, Sharpe said.
Sharpe said the Festival of Trees has become a way for families to kick off the Christmas season.
"We've heard stories over the years that this has become a tradition," she said.
She credits the event's success to the beauty of the tress.
"It kind of takes you to a place that's magical," Sharpe said.
Viewing the trees is free, but there are various activities that people pay to attend, such as the Teddy Bear Tea. This event has become so popular that a second Teddy Bear Tea was added this year. Tickets to Teddy Bear Tea are $5 and are available at the Farmington Civic Center.
Also new this year is Thursday afternoon's Tea with the Trees, which replaces a luncheon and fashion show that previously took place at the time. The event allows people to gather in a social setting and view the trees while drinking tea.
On Friday night, the festival will stay open later than last year. Sharpe said that will allow people to see the luminarias at San Juan College before attending the festival. The 35th annual luminarias will be on display Friday evening.
People will also have the option of attending Holiday Happy Hour, featuring singer and songwriter Jose Villareal from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday. Tickets for that are $10.
One of the more popular events is the Family Night on Friday, which is free and follows the parade in downtown Farmington. Sharpe said Santa will be there and this Santa has even been to Santa school and has his beard in the beard registry.
Even with all of the events, Sharpe said it is the overall ambience of the Festival of Tress that brings people back each year.
"I think people just enjoy mostly the beauty of it all," Sharpe said.