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Unwrapping the Magic with Festival of Trees at Riverside Children’s Theatre

VERO BEACH — Vero’s official holiday season kicked off Friday night with the Riverside Children’s Theatre 13th Annual Festival of Trees Gala Preview Party. 

Twinkling lights and tasty delights greeted Festival goers at the traditional wonderland created by artists, volunteers and local businesses.

Talented RCT carolers and the omnipresent Santa added to the festive ambiance as guests arrived.  The party got into full swing after Linda Downey, RCT Director of Education and the Festival Coordinator, thanked sponsors before pulling the switch to light up the beautifully decorated trees.

This year’s theme was Unwrap the Magic, and the designers had done just that with each and every one of their imaginative trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses.  Designers begin the process over the summer, creating and fine-tuning concepts and collecting or crafting all the elements for their pieces.

Vendor booths sprinkled throughout the room were offering up a variety of items that were perfect for a little holiday shopping; even one selling hand-painted teepees.  Out at the Candy Cane Café, Festival volunteers were selling a mouth-watering selection of jellies, relishes, honey spreads, gourmet cheese spreads and holiday pickles that they had whipped up.

Drink and food stations, catered by Chelsea’s on Cardinal, were also set up in each of the rooms, including a sushi bar and a particularly tempting Mashed Potato Bar.  A choice of sweet, smashed or Yukon Gold potatoes were piped into martini glasses and guests helped themselves to a selection of toppings from bacon to caviar.

Magician Mark Byrne wandered through the crowd eliciting cries of “How did you do that?, as he entertained everyone with some perplexing sleight of hand tricks.

Jean Ueltschi and Mary Replogle were two of about a dozen judges who had the difficult task of determining which of the numerous wreaths and trees (tall, table-top and miniature) would be 2010 Festival of Trees winners.

“I had judged in the past and was so happy to be asked again,” said Ueltschi.  “I have to say, it’s the event that really puts me in the holiday spirit.”

Replogle agreed saying, “It’s the kickoff to the season.  It’s always nice to see all the different themes; there are so many great ones.”

From centerpiece sized to large, there were trees to suit every possible décor.  Stunning traditional trees stood alongside fanciful designs such as the totally blue and orange Florida Gator tree and a dentist’s dream tree covered in sweet treats.  Spectacular red and gold trees competed for attention with the glittery sparkle of silver and crystal.  In others, literacy took center stage with themes such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Alice in Wonderland.

Nancy and Dick Shoemate said they were tempted by the endearing green Grinch. “We bought a Grinch tree that we brought up north and now we’re looking for one to keep here,” explained Nancy.

Of the large trees, an enchanting, “The Night Before Christmas,” designed by Marie Denson and Jaclyn Kinsey Rhodes of Lesly’s Salon & Day Spa, won awards for both Best in Show and Most Magical.  The delightful “The Magic Ends at Midnight,” designed by Kay Beck and Ed Butler from Michael’s Arts & Crafts, won Best Tall Tree, and sugarplums came to life with “The Nutcracker Sweet,” designed by Cheryl Showerman and Jaclyn Kinsey Rhodes for Tootsies, which won Most Traditional.

“We come every year,” said Ann Marie McCrystal. “It’s a particularly wonderful community effort.  You can really see how creative and talented people in our community truly are.”

A unique “Wrapped in Swaddling Clothes,” designed by Debbie Collins and Shotsi Lajoie won Best Table Top Tree.

“This is our 11th tree,” said Lajoie of their inventive Arabian-style tent crèche beneath a palm tree. “The first year we did it was right after a 1999 hurricane; we built it out of wood from the storm.  After 9-11 we built the stable in the shape of a pentagon with hundreds of stars representing the people who were killed.”

“Every year, it’s a different stable and a different theme,” added Collins.

“Debbie’s son David went to West Point and is going to Afghanistan in a few weeks, so we wanted to bring the Middle East into it,” Lajoie explained of their current version.

“Bejeweled,” designed by Page Curtis and festooned with hand-made ornaments glittering with semi-precious gems, was voted Best Miniature Tree.  South Sea pearls and jewels dotted her creation, which even included a necklace and earrings to be enjoyed long after Christmas.

In addition to the huge selection of wreaths and trees available throughout the various rooms, were other specialty items.

A long table filled with menorahs and dreidels has grown over the years, most from Carol Kanarek’s collection.

“I collect them wherever I go, and friends have brought them back for me from their trips, said Kanarek.  She was at a loss to pick out a favorite, saying, “They’re all special.”

Artist Ruth Ann Holt also creates one-of-a-kind Santas every year, and all the fanciful gingerbread houses, such as the delicately ornate Magic Castle, provide the perfect backdrop for the miniature train sets.

“It really is impressive,” said Lois Appleby of the event.  “It gets you into the spirit for sure.”

The money raised by this major fundraiser for Riverside Children’s Theatre enables it to provide educational programs, arts and cultural enrichment to children from ages three and older in areas such as drama, dance, film and technical theatre.

The Festival of Trees continues Saturday until 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Saturday there will also be two Holiday Concerts at 4 and 7 p.m. next door at Riverside Theatre. {igallery 305}

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