Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 24, 2013

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Festival of Trees and Trains bringing back ‘child-like’ spirit of the season

Lana Bellamy
The Independent

ASHLAND — Traditions are the foundation of celebrating the holidays, but at the Paramount’s Festival of Trees and Trains, decking out “traditional” Christmas trees is anything but conventional.

The auditorium has been transformed into a forest of wildly decorated trees of all shapes and sizes. In the back rows, trees decorated and donated from local schools line the staircases. Visitors can merely observe their beauty or place a bid in a silent auction to purchase a new Christmas tree for themselves.

For 29 years, the Paramount Women’s Association has organized the 10-day festival to help raise money for the Paramount’s youth education program.

This year, the festival opened a day earlier to help garner more interest with the public, festival chairperson Christy Reaves said.

Communal involvement fuels the Trees and Trains operation, Reaves said. Schools, individuals and local businesses decorate trees, community agencies accommodate hospitality needs and everybody has a jolly good time.

The entire festival centers around fundraising for education, hence ticket pricing and silent tree auction, but for Reaves, Trees and Trains is about more than the money.

“Once the doors open and you hear a little kid run down the steps, which happened yesterday, and yell, ‘This is the best day of my life!’ You’re done. That’s all you need,” she said.

Reaves said they have dedicated this year’s festival to re-inspiring “child-like” Christmas spirit, not just in the younger visitors, but in the adults, as well.

The Anderson family, James and Kelli and their four children, have made it a family tradition the past three years to enjoy the festival, with their sons admiring the trains and Kelli appreciating the array of trees.

“I think the way that the trees and the trains and how everything is tied together are the most interesting part,” James said.

Kelli said their sons like to challenge themselves with the scavenger hunt, which gives them a list of obscure items to search for around the train set.

The festival’s elvish mascots, Holly and Jolly, will be attending different events throughout the week to help energize the holiday atmosphere, namely Cocoa with Santa on Saturday.

Each day of Trees and Trains brings to light new local talent on the renowned Paramount stage, which Reaves said is an invaluable opportunity for the community.

“We try to encompass many different things that will allow the community to come onto the grand Paramount stage,” she said. “We have people come that have never performed on the stage before and it’s their dream.”

Trees and Trains, though highly organized and well-planned, require year-round preparation for Reaves and her team.

She worked on different types of Trees and Trains committees for the past 10 years before becoming chairwoman.

Trains were added to the festival nine years ago, originating as a small 11-foot-wide rectangular track, blossoming into a 30-feet-wide track with five levels and four different scales of trains, all designed by professional railroad aficionados from the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society.

About 10 work on the train sets all year long making improvements on mobility, wiring and adding special features.

Through all the production work, Reaves said inspiring Christmas spirit in the community is the festival’s main goal.

“At the end of the day, it’s about an event that is all about the holidays, it’s all positive, and it’s a magical environment,” she explained. “You walk in and you can’t tell what time of day it is outside so you kind of stay in the moment.”

On Tuesday, in line with the Ashland holiday parade, families can visit the Festival of Trees and Trains for a $10 flat rate, regardless of how many family members are in each group.

For more information about the festival and schedule of events, visit pacfott.org.

LANA BELLAMY can be reached at lbellamy@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.