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Frazee adds ladies luncheon to Festival of Trees celebration

For 14 years now, the community of Frazee has officially kicked off the Christmas season on the weekend after Thanksgiving, by hosting its annual Festival of Trees.

This year will be no exception, as the annual event opens Friday, Nov. 27, and continues Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 28-29, as well as the following weekend, Dec. 4-6.

But according to festival organizers, this year will most likely be the last for the popular seasonal event.

"We are almost certain we are going to be announcing (at the conclusion of the festival) that this is it," said Diane Mistelske, who has been involved with the festival since its inception.

And while one of the key reasons cited is a lack of volunteers, it's not the only reason, she said.

"We have a lot of people who volunteer on the days of (the festival)," said Mistelske. But when it comes to the actual setup and cleanup afterwards, "there aren't quite so many," she added.

Part of the reason for that is the time commitment involved on the days immediately preceding the festival.

"We used to have two weeks or more getting ready, and now we have four days," Mistelske said.

The Frazee Event Center, which has served as home for the festival for the past eight years, is usually booked with other events right up until a few days prior to its opening, she explained.

Because of the short lead-in time, the volunteers often have to work from morning to midnight -- and sometimes later -- on the days preceding the festival opening, Mistelske noted.

"It's gotten to be hard work," she said, adding, "We're all 14 years older. We need more time (to prepare), and we have less."

And the short preparation time also means she and the other festival committee members -- Jay Estenson, Ruth Ewanika and Mary Seaberg -- aren't able to be as creative as they used to be.

"When we started this, we were in a different empty building each year," Mistelske said.

In order to use every inch of available space, they often had to come up with some pretty imaginative ideas. It was an artistically challenging process, she added.

Now, with the same set space to use every year, and less time to get ready, there isn't as much opportunity to be creative, Mistelske explained. "It's just not as much fun," she added.

But the festival itself will have as much for visitors to enjoy as ever, she said, with more than 50 holiday-themed scenes set up throughout the Event Center.

"We are having a very unusual display this year," said Mistelske. "We have a whole African-themed corner."

The African display will feature well over a dozen exotic species of animals, including a full-size zebra and a mounted giraffe head that's over 10 feet tall.

"It's gorgeous," Mistelske said.

What makes the Frazee Festival of Trees unique among other festivals of its kind is that the displays are not done by professional decorators; rather, local organizations and individuals take their own decorations from home to create the holiday scenes.

"There are all new displays this year," Mistelske added. "These are far from professional-looking trees, but that's because it's done by a bunch of local people. We really try not to have that (professionally decorated) look."

And unlike other festivals of its kind, the trees at the event are not offered for sale; participants take their decorations back home again when it's finished, Mistelske said.

One other unique aspect of the festival is its unofficial "mascot," Buford. The life-sized stuffed mannequin is integrated into one of the tree displays each year, in various creative ways.

"He's been a Santa Claus, a farmer on a tractor, a school principal, a meat cutter, a senior citizen," Mistelske said. "He's been a part of our Festival of Trees for all 14 years ... he'll be there somewhere this year, too."

In addition to some familiar aspects, such as Buford, the festival will have some new aspects as well, including the Ladies Christmas Celebration Luncheon, a special event set for Monday, Nov. 30, and Wednesday, Dec. 2, from 1 to 3 p.m. (Tickets for the Monday luncheon are sold out, Mistelske said.)

A light lunch will be served along with tea, gourmet coffee and hot apple cider. Tickets are $15, and space is limited.

There are other special events going on at the Event Center during the week of the festival, Mistelske said, including a home-based business open house on Wednesday, Dec. 2, and the annual Holiday Gala hosted by the Event Center on Thursday, Dec. 3.

The festival itself will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Nov. 27, 28 and 29, as well as Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 5-6. It will also be open from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4.

In addition to the tree displays, there will be hot cider, gourmet coffee and Christmas goodies for sale; though there is no admission fee for the festival, free will donations will be accepted.

For more information about the festival or the Ladies Luncheon -- or if you would like to volunteer -- please contact Jay Estenson, 218-334-2661; Diane Mistelske, 334-2122; Ruth Ewanika, 334-5081; or Mary Seaberg, 847-9608.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454