Special Feature: Bringing the Festival of Trees and Lights to Life 

By Alyssa Dearborn 

For many Central New Yorkers, The Everson Museum’s annual Festival of Trees and Lights is a beloved holiday tradition. In its 38th year, the festival welcomes all to enjoy beautifully decorated trees and wreaths, an artisanal market, live performances, cultural activities, and the museum’s own collection of art. What many do not know about the festival, though, is that this treasured holiday tradition is the result of hard work and collaboration between the Everson staff and the museum’s member council. For the past few years, Liz Herrick – president of the member council and chair of the Festival of Trees and Lights committee – has been at the head of ensuring that the festival can be enjoyed by the community. 

“I have been visiting the museum as a guest and attending the Festival of Trees and Lights for probably 20 years.” Liz said when asked about how she became involved with the council, “And then about 10 years ago I became involved as one of the chairpeople running the entertainment and contributing trees. So that’s how I became involved.”  

Many of the members joined under different circumstances – some from being introduced to the council by other members and others from their artistic contributions – but all of the members share Liz’s enthusiasm for the Everson’s mission. 

Pat Humpleby, a founder of the festival and a former chairperson on the committee, added, “I was president of the members council for the first [festival] and then I chaired the third one. And I have been involved in some way ever since. A little bit of history, the members council was not that large a group when we started. And so this was a very big endeavor. It was totally volunteer. All volunteers. And at that time, things were different. Women didn’t work all the time. Members council was an all women’s group at the time and we did everything…The object of the festival was to raise funds for the museum and to have the public come to the museum. And I think the festival accomplished both of these since it’s been doing that for 39 years.”  

“There’s a lot that goes on with the museum.” Liz said about the importance of the members council, “There are more and more events and activities that are both educational programs, outreach programs, and we try to provide volunteers to help out with some of these programs, as well as provide funding that supports them. So it does play an important role in the museum.” 

Elizabeth Dunbar, the director and CEO of the Everson, added, “The event has changed a little bit in how it’s organized and the members council has changed over the years. But we could not function without our members council. Truly, the Festival of Trees takes a village for that to come to pass every year. And we have such a great, dedicated group of volunteers and we have a core group on our members council board and other solid core volunteers. But they’re constantly recruiting new people to come and get involved in the museum. They’re bringing new folks to visit for the first time, maybe turn them into volunteers. Sometimes they become donors and board members. So truly they are our outreach into the community. They are some of the best ambassadors we can have. And we are so grateful to have them, not working for us, but with us.”  

When asked how she became the chair for one of the largest events at the Everson, Liz replied, “That’s a good question.” The group let out a chuckle. Chairing the festival is a time-consuming task, and it is apparent that not many volunteer to take on that task. 

“Well,” she continued, “you start getting involved making contributions, bringing in trees to display, and then I became a committee chairperson. Then, when Patty decided to take a break, I offered. This is a unique event in that it is a strong collaboration between the Everson staff and the volunteers. So it really is about those interactions. We rely on each other, everybody has a different role to play. To reuse an old phrase, it takes a village to put this event in place and we need both the staff side – all of their support and professionalism–and then what we bring to the table as volunteers – a lot of hard work and dedication in terms of time and energy and creation of trees and wreaths and other decor items.” 

“As everyone around this table knows, being the chair of Festival of Trees is not an easy job to have.” Elizabeth added, “It’s very stressful, you work almost year-round on the Festival of Trees and Light. And there’s so many moving parts that it takes a really special, dedicated, passionate person to take on that title, to take on that role. Being a former administrator in the school district helps for sure. It’s such a tremendous amount of work that it takes a really hard-working, organized person who is very committed to the organization.”  

Visitors to this year’s festival can expect to experience everything that has made this event a local holiday tradition – uniquely decorated trees, a variety of seasonal decor, artisan gift items, live performances, and family friendly cultural activities. But every year, Liz tries to make the festival bigger and more special.  

“Every year we try to make it bigger and better,” Liz said. “So we will have lots of seasonal and holiday items and decor to look at and purchase, so there will be lots of trees and wreaths and menorahs, and wall decor representing a variety of different holidays. We will also have an artisanal marketplace that Roberta is co-chair of.” 

Roberta Ripberger, the co-chair of decor on the members council, said about the marketplace, “We’re trying to reach out to the art community here and to contribute pieces of their artwork. I think it’s great exposure and it’s going to be in a beautiful setting in the members’ gallery. What more could you ask for as an artist, to have your work there on sale, on display, at the museum? And we’re really trying to work on that this year to get more and more people.” 

“This year, we’ve got some new people coming in that haven’t come before. To me, it’s a lot of fun to reach out to all these music performers, dance performers, theatrical performers, just to come and share their talents,” said Dave Perry, a former colleague of Liz’s from the Liverpool School District and current chair of the council’s entertainment committee. “Everyone that performs here contributes their services, their talents, their donations to the museum. And it works really well for them because they’ve got a wonderful professional environment in which they can perform. There’s a built-in audience because people are going to be there anyway. It’s a bright, happy, cheery environment for them to share their talents.” 

With all the work put into the festival by Liz and other people on the members council, Liz emphasized that, at the end of the day, all of the hard work helps bring the community together. 

“The festival has evolved so that it’s not just about Christmas trees and wreaths and those holiday items.” she said, “We are embracing the traditions of a variety of cultural holidays. So we embrace Hanukkah, we embrace Kwanza, and Dwai, as well as the Winter Solstice. It is about reaching out to the community, having them engaged with us, to acknowledge all of these traditions and arts…It’s community at every level. They make it happen. They contribute their items, they perform, and they volunteer during. And so everybody attends. We really have a community in a big sense of the word.”