hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

December 12, 2013

Christmas trees keep Buttonwoods merry

By Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — You don’t have to travel far to reach Santa’s Village.

Just kick up your heels and head toward 240 Water St. and you’ll stumble upon a veritable fantasy land filled with decorated Christmas trees and just about every other holiday trinket.

It’s the 12th annual “Christmas at the Buttonwoods — the Festival of Trees.” And this museum is nothing short of festivity and merriment.

Giving credit where it’s due, assistant curator and tree honcho Tom Spitalere has done another incredible job showcasing this bonanza for the public that even Santa might be a tad envious of.

From the very first festival a dozen years ago when 20 trees were raffled off, now we have 130 of these beauties, joined by wreaths and centerpieces designed to make any home more elaborate for your Christmas enjoyment.

Over the years, some $100,000 has been raised to keep this museum solvent. In the words of six-year curator Jan Williams, it’s the best Christmas gift any city landmark could receive. Money goes toward maintenance and upkeep of the property.

“To be quite honest about it, this museum would be seriously impacted without this festival,” Williams admits. “People are thrilled to have a Buttonwoods tree in their home, knowing it’s doing our establishment some good.”

Most inspiring are the innovative ways people decorate these trees and the creativity that prevails.

“Look at the ideas and you’ll see some incredible themes,” Williams says.

As for Spitalere, he, too, is enamored by all this as Christmas takes on a year-long approach. He starts planning in January and finishes in December, just in time to get another round going.

At noon on Thursday of this week, a children’s scavenger hunt takes place there until 8 p.m., followed by a senior citizens day Friday the 13th (no bad omen here folks!). Accordionist Paul Gosselin will be performing throughout the day (10 a.m. to 8 p.m.), with prizes going to the best elf costume.

Family Day will usher in Saturday’s agenda with Minnie and Mickey teaming up with Santa. Crafts all day, classic holiday movie and a tour of the Duncan House.

Sunday’s closing will feature the Pentucket Regional School Choral Group from West Newbury and caroling from noon to 5 p.m.

Last chance to purchase a raffle ticket for a tree. Pay a slight admission, take a chance, and you could be driving home with an elegant showpiece. The drawing will take place Sunday.

I, too, was blown away by the diversity. These are not your average trees. There’s one titled “Give a Hoot for Christmas,” festooned with owls done by Millvale Folk Art. They’ve been aboard all dozen years. Ladies of St. Anne, All Saints Parish, wish you “a blessed Christmas” with their offering.

Particularly impressive was one from the Firefighters Museum, complete with gifts, showing nostalgic apparatus. And another featuring an Irish tree, prominent with artifacts promoting this ethnic heritage.

Newly-elected City Councilor Melinda Barrett, a board member, came through once again with a tree symbolizing “The Magic of Red and White,” featuring snowmen and snowflakes accented by red bulbs.

Kudos to Tara Early and her “twinkling lights for autism.” Beautifully done for a worthwhile cause, Tara!

And in honor of her first grandchild, Marilyn Spitalere (Tom’s mother) unveiled a tree decorated with stuffed animals, butterflies and lollipops.

There’s even a garden tree, complete with tools, seeds and all else required for a “green Christmas.”

No one did a Red Sox tree commemorating this year’s World Series title as was the case in 2004. But trust me, there’s no shortage of home runs in this ballpark.

Yes, at the Buttonwoods consideration is given to the most creative, but you — the public — gets to choose, not a panel of judges. It’s all for bragging rights.

The 200-year-old Buttonwoods maintains its vigil on the hill above Water Street, overlooking the Merrimack River. During school vacation weeks, students are drawn to its fold with a cache of activity and fun.

The Greater Haverhill Arts Association continues to make this its home for its May exhibit, followed by two weeks of Past Finders history activities in the summer for kiddos.

The Susan Kneeland Student Art Show hops aboard in October, paving the way for the tree festival. There’s never a dull moment here with school tours, private parties and rentals. The Visitors Center runs from May to November.

Before leaving the premises, I passed by something called the “Nun’s Tree,” embellished with angels, bells and antique bulbs. I suddenly heard a bell ringing.

Unless it was my imagination, perhaps I was in for a special miracle this Christmas. May you share this moment with me — and the Buttonwoods crew.

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.