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November 25. 2012 8:31PM

Pelham Christmas tree festival rooted in community spirit


Emma Repici, 7, Makenzie Roche, 7 and Megan Paquin, 6, admire a 101 Dalmatians tree at the Southern New Hampshire Festival of Trees in Pelham. (BARBARA TAORMINA PHOTO)

In Pelham, Christmas tree decorations are more than bright lights and ornament overload. For Pelham residents, trimming a tree is an art and every year, they celebrate their original yule works at the Southern New Hampshire Festival of Trees, a week-long celebration of the season that showcases uniquely designed Christmas trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses.

The festival also features nightly performances by local choirs and bands.

"Everyone comes home for Christmas, and this event is about getting everyone together," said Laurie Hogan, a member of the festival committee that organized the event.

Hogan said the festival gives families a place to reconnect and catch up with each other.

"It's all about people having the chance to have those conversations," she said.

The festival kicked off at Sherburne Hall last Friday, and will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Like other festivals of Christmas trees, the event gives community groups, businesses and families a chance to show off their tree-trimming skills and compete for top honors and blue ribbons. Unlike other festivals, the Pelham tree fest is packed with other activities. In addition to the nightly entertainment, there are ongoing bake sales, kids' crafts and daily scavenger hunts that have kids and parents searching the trees for special ornaments.

And there's also a little raffle action for anyone feeling the onset of some holiday luck. Many of the trees are decorated with gift cards, coupons and prizes, while others have gifts under them.

Everything will be raffled off on Saturday. The winner of the Harpoon Brewery tree will take home a variety of ales, lagers and stouts, while whoever is holding the chosen ticket for the Hair Sensations tree will be the new owner of an extensive collection of headbands, flower clips and other accessories. And whoever walks away with the Pelham Senior Center tree will also be taking home a $400 prize that the savvy seniors collected to spice up their entry.

The Southern New Hampshire Festival of Trees is sponsored by Pelham Community Spirit, a group of volunteers who organize concerts and special events that bring families and friends together.

"Pelham Community Spirit grew out of the committee that planned the events for the town's 250th anniversary celebration," said Charlene Takesian, one of the core members of the group, the former town treasurer and a newly elected state representative for Pelham and Hudson.

Takesian said the 250th anniversary, which was in 1996, had so many events, and the committee had such a good time planning them, that they wanted to keep going.

Rather than waiting 50 more years for the town's tri-centennial, they launched Pelham Community Spirit and have been planning and organizing ever since.

The group also raised more than $60,000 to renovate Sherburne Hall, the gym of the old Sherburne Elementary School. According to the Pelham Historical Society, the school, built in 1920, introduced several innovations to rural school houses, including heat and running water.

Over time, the school was expanded, abandoned and then renovated and incorporated into Pelham's Municipal Town Center, except for the gym, which remained vacant until Pelham Spirit took it on and created a community hall and performance center.

"When we were finished, we thought wouldn't it be great to have a festival of trees here," Takesian said. That was four years ago, and the festival has evolved from special event to town tradition.

"For me the best part is when people bring in their trees and start decorating," said Takesian. "It brings the place to life and gives it a nice, warm feeling."

Many of the people who stopped to see the trees on Saturday seemed to be catching a dose of both Christmas and Pelham spirit.

Pelham resident Eric Lucido carried around his 9-month old daughter, Jamie, who seemed especially impressed with the lights.

"It's great to see the look on her face and to see her enjoy her first Christmas," said Lucido.

Others pointed to different ornaments and tree toppers, like the Pelham Garden Club's star made with wine bottle corks, or the eagle perched on the top of a patriotic military-themed tree.

"I like the tree with the Pelham Police Officer badge," said Joshua Bean, 9, of Londonderry. Bean added he hopes to join the force when he gets a little older.

For festival organizer Donna Roche, watching the reactions of different people as they walk through the trees is always a good moment.

"Just watching when everyone comes in is great," she said. "It's like seeing the name of our committee, Community Spirit."

btaormina@newstote.com


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