A Land Straight Out of Santa’s Imagination


Have you ever wished you could travel to the North Pole and visit Santa’s workshop? The Festival of Trees fundraiser put on by Kennedy Krieger can help you make this dream a reality.

“We like to say if Santa had a theme park, this would be it,” said Michele Mueller, the director of special events at Kennedy Krieger.

The Festival of Trees has something for everyone. At the event you can view and purchase decorated trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses. There is an entertainment area, food court and over 100 gift vendors.

To keep the kids entertained you can visit Santa Land, which includes: a full-sized carousel, carnival games, train and simulator rides, a racecar track and reindeer rides.

The main purpose of this event is to raise money for Kennedy Krieger. Last year the festival raised more than $1.2 million, according to Mueller.

“At Kennedy Krieger we treat children with developmental disabilities and also injuries and disorders of the brain, spinal cord and muscular skeletal system.” Mueller said. “We are a non-profit so this is our biggest fundraiser of the year.”

According to Mueller all of the proceeds come from admission to the event, vendor spots and money raised through sponsorships. Money also comes from purchased trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses that are donated from members of the community.

The event itself also caters to those with disabilities. A few years ago, staff at Kennedy Krieger worked with a carousel provider to build a wheelchair accessible carousel.

“You don’t realize that children who are in wheelchairs and walkers don’t get to go on rides like other kids,” Mueller said. “Last night someone posted a video on our Facebook page of their child enjoying the carousel that read, ‘This is the first wheelchair accessible carousel that we’ve seen. We’ve been turned away from four different amusement park carousels that our daughter has not been able to ride on.’”

The festival also features a “Calming Corral” where children or adults can get away from the sights and sounds if they feel too overwhelmed. The corral has a sound machine, muted lighting and beanbag sofas to help festivalgoers relax.

“There is a rhythm to the event and you can feel, taste and smell it,” said Lainy LeBow-Sachs, the executive VP of external relations at Kennedy Krieger. “I love seeing and feeling the excitement of the families as they walk through the event.”

The Festival of Trees has been going strong for 27 years after starting back in 1990. It replaced Kennedy Krieger’s Kinder Gala that was losing momentum, according to Mueller.

“I like that the festival has become such a family tradition for so many people,” Mueller said. “There are people who came as kids, who are now grown up bringing their kids.”

“I’m so inspired by the Festival of Trees each year because it is about families coming out to have fun and enjoy each other,” LeBow-Sachs said. “The most rewarding thing is seeing the people who all have one thing in common- a big smile on their face!”

So how long does it take to set up this winter wonderland? The answer is, all year long. The planning starts in January leading up to the event in November.

“We are physically here on site setting up for eight days straight,” Mueller said. “The event itself is three days long and then it takes two days to tear down.”

Once the festival is cleaned up, numbers are counted in December and thank you notes are sent out to volunteers and sponsors. Then it’s right back to planning the next Festival of Trees in January.

The Festival starts at the end of November every year at the Timonium Fairgrounds.




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