The spirit and energy of Christmas is alive and well. Lights already adorn the trees, shrubs and fixtures of downtown Wilmington, while shops aplenty are playing Christmastime favorites. Adding to the season will be the return of Lower Cape Fear Hospice’s annual Festival of Trees, once again held at Cameron Art Museum (CAM).

2013 Festival of Trees, Cameron Art Museum. Photo by Alan Cradick.

The Festival of Trees will begin their twinkling celebration this Friday. Courtesy of CAM.

What began in 1983, helmed by hospice nurse Sondra Robertson, marked a tradition in Wilmington that would occur until 2007. Dwindling volunteers and lack of securing locations made it difficult for hospice to hold it while still focusing most-needed attention on their end-of-life care. It wasn’t until 2011 that Elizabeth Hester of the Wilmington School of Ballet decided to upstart the fundraiser again with her Nutcracker Ballet. Though a success, restrictions on space meant in order to thrive, the festival needed to grow. So she approached CAM to be a hosting spot. Now, three years later, Kim Kelly, CAM’s communications manager, and Nan Pope, CAM’s gift shop manager, are making sure the Festival of Trees continues.

“This event is very special because it is a time when two community nonprofits come together, along with community leaders and businesses,” Kelly says.

Working in conjunction with David Howell, development manager at Lower Cape Fear Hospice and LifeCareCenter, the seasonal event kicks off Friday, November 21, with its Party in the Pines gala. The Festival of Trees will continue through December 7, and will feature various programming and events to keep the season of merriment most memorable for Cape Fear families.

“Festival of Trees is a wonderland for kicking off the holidays,” Howell, says. “Guests can wander through a menagerie [sic] of light and color.”

Staying true to the spirit of Christmas, the festival welcomes businesses and citizens to sign up to decorate their own Christmas tree. The cost of entry is $1,000—or $1,250 for folks who wish to enlist the aid of a decorator. All proceeds are given to Lower Cape Fear Hospice and LifeCareCenter. Proceeds from the festival’s other ticketed events funnel into CAM’s educational programming.

“Additionally, local performers help get festival-goers into the spirit of the giving season,” Kelly details. “We also involve community volunteers who tirelessly give many hours and smiles to help make the festival a success.”

This year the Festival of Trees will boast a grand total of 28 entries. Twenty-five will come from local businesses, which include: Carolina Transport of Burgaw Inc.; Keller’s Inc.; D&H Marketing; Sage Salon and Spa;  Wilmington Health; St. Mary’s Catholic School; George Harris Enterprises; Wilmington Burial and Cremation; Andrews Mortuary; Retina Eye Associates; Monteith Construction; Cape Fear Cancer Specialists; Blockade Runner; Bob King Buick-GMC; Inc.; Med Center Pharmacy; Polka Dot Palm; LCFH & LCC; Pleasant Hill LLC; Bangz Hair Salon; Linda Brown; Laney Electric Services; Wilmington Plastic Surgery; Greenlawn Memorial Park; and Fiore Fine Flowers.

Hometown Wilmington Media will be the only media tree at the festival, plus there will be a tree dedicated to Wilmington native and painter Claude Howell. The tree will be decked out in original Howell illustrations from some of his classic Christmas cards, as well as paint brushes, tubes of paint, and such. As always, the 15-foot Memory Tree—which beckons guests to write notes to hang and pay tribute to deceased loved ones—will be a highlight for all in attendance. 

Trees take on various themes annually. Some favorites from the past include ornaments of Campbell’s soup cans, a la Andy Warhol. Animal-inspired, painting-themed (topped with a paintbrush) and origami-decorated trees have impressed, too. “One year [the] museum shop’s tree [featured] the famous Edvard Munch’s doll from his painting ‘The Scream,’” Kelly recollects.

All trees will be on display in the CAM reception hall. Admission to view the trees is free for children 4 and under, $6 for children 5-12, and $13 for 13 and up. Tickets are good any day of the festival and also admits entrance into CAM’s current exhibits.

“We always look forward to seeing visitors come in with their families and friends and enjoy the beautifully decorated trees,” Kelly says. “But they also are able to enjoy the latest exhibitions at the CAM, too.”

The festival has extended its Christmas cheer this year with an Art of the Gingerbread competition. There will be 12 creations in total, and the competition will be judged based on an online auction. Folks can bid for their favorite sweet rendering at

“Gingerbread creations were once a part of the festival and we wanted to bring it back,” Kelly tells. “In the years since the CAM has held the festival, we get asked if we are going to have the gingerbread event the next year—so this year we made it a reality.”

The prizes for the competition officially will be announced on Saturday, December 6 at 7 p.m. at Ginger Blast ($25 through November 29 and $30 thereafter). As well, they will serve sweet treats thanks to CAM Café’s chef, Jessica Cabo. A cash bar will be open and live music will be hosted.

“We anticipate there will be much more than just the typical ‘house’ made from gingerbread; that is why we refer to them as creations,” Kelly comments. “We expect a range of styles.”

Celebrations will begin with Party in the Pines gala at 6 p.m. this Friday. Folks will get a sneak peek to view the trees and gingerbread creations while noshing on hors d’ oeuvre. There also will be a cash bar and desserts. The jazzy sounds of Keith Butler Trio and sax player Benny Hill will take over the museum. Admission to the event is $45.

On Saturday, November 29, 8:30 a.m., there will be a Jingle Bell Breakfast with Santa. Families can deck out the kiddies in their most festive pajamas and enjoy a hot buffet breakfast. There also will be stories read among the trees. The real highlight will come when Mr. and Mrs. Claus appear. (The event is limited to 200 tickets and sold out in 2013.) Admission is $15 for kids 12 and under and $20 for everyone else.

Children also can get in on the gingerbread action on Saturday, December 6, from 10 a.m. until noon. This will be the first year they are holding the gingerbread-cookie decorating workshop. The little ones can decorate their own gingerbread boy or girl with icing. For kids who love all-things marine, there will be a batch of sea creatures from the gingerbread ocean—turtles, sharks and mermaids. All crafty creators will receive a chef’s hat, apron and take-home boxes. The event comes at no additional charge to those with festival tickets and will be open while supplies last.

Musical performances will extend throughout the festival, running the gamut: musical theatre from students at DREAMS Center for Arts Education, harp soloist Hannah Beckett, St. Paul’s Oompah Band, handbell soloist Lisa Greer, Thalian Association Children’s Theatre choir, and even the Port City Tubas. A full list of performances can be found on the Festival of Trees website (


Festival of Trees

Cameron Art Museum
3201 S 17th St.
Trees on display: Nov. 21 – Dec. 7
Admission: Free to $13
Party in the Pines kickoff celebration
Fri., Nov. 21, 6 p.m. Tickets: $45

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