By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — Organizers for the Festival of Trees are getting in the holiday spirit early this year.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of what has grown into the largest event of its kind in New England, festival goers will be treated to a variety of events throughout 2013 — starting with a cocktail reception, dinner and raffle at the end of the month.
“It’s very exciting for us,” said Festival of Trees President Ann Guastaferro. “We have so many things planned for the year. It’s really a celebration of people who have made the festival what it is today.”
“An Emerald Evening” will be held May 31 at 13 Branch St. to recognize the beginnings of the Festival of Trees, its founders and the $1.4 million in historic preservation projects the annual holiday event has funded since its origination in 1994.
A community-wide treasure hunt and outdoor family fun day are also planned for the fall before the festival itself kicks off Nov. 23.
Festival organizers have chosen emerald green as the theme of this year’s celebration. Emerald is the gemstone for 20th anniversaries and was also named 2013 color of the year by Pantone Inc.
The Festival of Trees started as a fundraiser for the last stages of restoration on the historic Tenney Gatehouse in downtown Methuen. During that first year, 17 decorated holiday trees were raffled off to festival goers. Last year, that number grew to 240 trees and wreaths.
Each tree is elaborately decorated according to its own theme before being raffled off on the last day of the festival in December.
“It’s a lot of trees,” said Guastaferro. “We have a lot of donors. Every year, we’re just amazed with the ideas people come up with. Every tree is unique.”
Proceeds from admission fees and tree raffle tickets have gone on to fund over 140 historic preservation projects across the region, from Newburyport to New Hampshire.
“That’s our mission,” said Guastaferro. “We want to preserve our history so people in the future can appreciate it.”
Guastaferro said the festival now attracts over 27,000 visitors annually from 14 states, making it the largest holiday tree festival in New England.
To get this far, Guastaferro thanked the more than 1,000 people, businesses and groups that have donated trees over the years and the 1,500 event volunteers.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without volunteers or donors,” said Guastaferro. “We’ve been very successful because of them.”
Festival of Trees 20th Anniversary :May 31: "An Emerald Evening" at 13 Branch St. recognizing the beginnings of the festival, its founders and the restoration projects it has funded. Featuring a cocktail reception, elegant dinner stations and raffle for a chance to win an emerald and diamond necklace. Sept. 1: Community-wide "Treasure Hunt" running through Dec. 7. Participants are entered to win a trip for two to Ireland. Sept. 7: "Festival-in-the-Trees Family Day" at Greycourt Park, behind City Hall, featuring music, food and family fun. Nov. 23 to Dec. 7: "The Emerald Anniversary Festival of Trees" featuring more than 240 trees, wreaths and kids' events. Begins with the annual Taste of the Festival. All visitors who enter tree raffles will also be entered into a drawing for a $2,000 emerald ring. For more info, visit methuenfestivaloftrees.com