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‘Tis the season of giving back

The Festival of Trees embodies the spirit of Christmas by giving back and helping those in need. Every year, the festival acts as a fundraiser for Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, and this year, it was held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4.

In previous years, it has been an in-person event with many trees, nativities and treats for all to enjoy. However, due to COVID-19 precautions, this year it was held virtually.

The Festival of Trees was virutal this year due to COVID. All proceeds went to Primary Children’s Hospital.
The Festival of Trees was virutal this year due to COVID. All proceeds went to Primary Children’s Hospital. Photo credit: Blythe Evans

Natalie Mayhew, co-chair for the Festival of Trees volunteer board, said the Festival of Trees has been going on for 51 years with countless decorators, families and donors.

Mayhew said the event being virtual this year had no effect on the number of trees donated, coming to a total of 201 trees.

Individuals could visit the Festival of Trees website to see the trees, wreaths, centerpieces, quilts and more.

There was a silent auction for the donated items. A gift shop was open on the website as well, along with an option to simply donate. All the money raised goes to Primary Children’s Hospital and the children there.

Becky Yamasaki, member of the executive board and decorator, said donations don’t have to be big — every dollar counts.

Decorators can dedicate their tree to a specific child at Primary Children’s, and spectators can learn about their story.

Yamasaki and her family created a wreath and dedicated it to her daughter, Madeline, who is now 17 years old. She was born with a severe complete cleft lip and palate. Every year they dedicate their donations to her to show their gratitude for the help Primary Children’s gave.

Nikki and Adri Mortensen have been decorating trees for the festival for 17 years now. It has become a family tradition.

Nikki Mortensen explained that it first started with her mom wanting to give back to Primary Children’s for helping her brother, who had a rare and fatal heart defect. After the first year of decorating a tree, they became hooked. This year, they dedicated their tree to her brother’s heart surgeon at Primary Children’s.

“It’s pretty amazing and humbling to walk around the event center after you’ve finished decorating,” Nikki Mortensen said. “So many trees and stories. Some miraculous and some heart-wrenching, but all of them are given in gratitude for the work that is done at Primary Children’s.”

The whole Mortensen family gets together to help create and decorate the tree and it becomes a process. Adri Mortensen explained that each member in her family is assigned a task to help complete the tree.

Like the Mortensen family, the Yamasaki family comes together to help build their piece.

The community helps by donating and bringing awareness to the festival. This year held a big surprise.

Yamasaki explained that TikTok user JT Laybourne and his wife, Brooklyn, made a video to bring awareness to this year’s Festival of Trees in honor of Jocelyn Ducharme, who had brain cancer.

The TikTok influencers went live to raise money for Jocelyn’s tree and give it back to her family. Yamasaki said they raised over $55,000 that night, which TikTok matched.

“There’s a special spirit that’s here,” Yamasaki said.

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Lexie Andrew
Lexie Andrew, Culture editor

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