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November 16, 2012

'This just gets bigger and better every year'

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas on Branch Street in Methuen thanks to more than 200 businesses, schools, community organizations and individuals.

And just a few thousand twinkle lights, ornaments and garland.

Today, the 19th annual Festival of Trees kicks off in the Valley Office Park at 13 Branch St. The opening night features the fourth annual “Taste of the Festival,” a culinary celebration featuring specialty foods from 25 local restaurants and a guest appearance by chef and restaurateur Paul Wahlberg of Hingham’s Alma Nove and Wahlburgers. Tickets for the evening culinary event are $50 each. It is also the night when the festival’s 225 unique and amazing Christmas trees are unveiled.

Created by businesses, families, schools, community organizations and nonprofits and highly creative individuals, the trees at the festival are not your standard Christmas trees. From a tree entirely decorated with hedgehog ornaments, including a large, stuffed hedgehog tree topper, to a pink neon tree from a local spa featuring nail polish and lip gloss as ornaments, to a tree made entirely made of toy fire trucks, each one represents the creator’s idea of the holiday season, and each one will be raffled off with the proceeds benefiting Methuen’s Preservation Grant Program.

To date, the Festival of Trees has contributed $1.2 million to fund more than 140 preservation projects throughout the Merrimack Valley.

“This just gets bigger and better every year,” said Festival Tree coordinator Cindy Mazella. She said the festival has come a long way from the 17 trees it featured in its first year.

“We held it at the library and it was only open for one weekend,” Mazella said.

Now the festival boasts more than 28,000 visitors annually.

The lucky winners get to take home the tree as it is, Mazella explained, complete with its lights and decorations. In many instances, the trees feature bonus gifts on and under the tree like dolls, trucks, stuffed animals and gift certificates. The raffle will be drawn after the close of the festival on Dec. 2.

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