The White House has its meticulously decorated sky-high National Christmas Tree, and Rockefeller Center in New York City is known for the towering Christmas tree that keeps heads craning upward in the Big Apple. But ask Krista Gawronski about the most spectacular trees around, and she’ll direct you to Petaluma.
The historic city with its downtown iron-front buildings, Victorian homes and noted restaurants has something else worthy of bragging rights — the Festival of Trees hosted by the Fabulous Women of Sonoma County, a nonprofit that assists local and global causes.
“It’s free, it’s magical and it’s really a beautiful thing. It’s storybook-like,” said Gawronski, who heads the Petaluma-based organization. “It’s really as it should be.”
Introduced in 2011, the all-volunteer Festival of Trees is designed to share the joys of the holiday season while encouraging goodwill. By bidding on trees and buying boutique items, raffle tickets and sweet treats, visitors help Sonoma County charities as well as the Fabulous Women’s global cause, the Rwanda School Project.
This year, a special Sonoma Strong raffle will support fire victims, with proceeds going to the Redwood Credit Union Fire Relief Fund. Prizes include a trip for two to Las Vegas; a sports package with tickets to Warriors, 49ers and Giants games; and a wine and spirits package with a customized ice bucket crafted from a wine barrel.
The festival will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1 and from 3 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2 at Hotel Petaluma, 205 Kentucky St. The Sonoma Strong raffle continues through the hotel’s Gingerbread House Showcase & Competition from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 15 and 16 and 1 to 5 p.m. Dec. 17 in the hotel’s ballroom. Admission is free to both events.
The annual festival has grown into a community celebration that’s raised “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for good causes, all while spreading good cheer, Gawronski said.
“It kind of captures the soul of our group.”
Individual trees have sold from $200 to $2,500 each, with an option to bid or “buy now” at a selected price.
The event premise is simple. Businesses, nonprofit organizations, individuals and groups can sponsor a tree by coming up with a theme, decorating a tree with handcrafted or purchased items and then adding “something of value,” Gawronski said.
Live music adds to the festive mood, with the Pacific Empire Chorus among this year’s performers. Santa Claus will be on hand to pose for photos, and a snow machine will add some cold-weather ambiance.
All proceeds are split between the Rwanda School Project and two Sonoma County charities chosen from those submitting grant applications. Recipients — one specifically for youth-based services — are announced on opening night.
Sometimes, nonprofits both give and receive.
Petaluma-based PEP Housing provides seniors with quality affordable housing, support services and advocacy. It’s been part of the decorating force and is among the charities that have been given grants to help others.
Gawronski, 47, considers it a win-win celebration.
This year’s festival, with the theme “Tidings of Comfort and Joy,” features 70 Christmas trees, each a 4-foot-tall wonder designed to shine.
Themes have included a Harry Potter tree put together by Fundemonium in Rohnert Park, a vintage-style tree with handmade ornaments by Petaluma artist Cathe Holden, and a New Orleans tree with a Mardi Gras dinner party certificate.