By Katie Fallon
katiefallon@reporternewspapers.net

Although Christmas is more than two months away, one treasured Atlanta holiday tradition has already found a new home for the holiday season.

The Festival of Trees, an annual benefit for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, is now in its 31st year. While for many of the last 30 years, the event has been held in the Georgia World Congress Center, a scaled-down version will be presented this year at the Atlanta History Center.

“The Festival of Trees is thrilled to be working with the Atlanta History Center and Simon Malls to preserve some of Atlanta’s most meaningful holiday traditions,” said this year’s festival chairwoman Ann Hewitt. “At the same time, we are thankful for the opportunity to create new holiday experiences throughout the city of Atlanta.”

Happening from Dec. 1 to 19, the festival will still retain the atmosphere Atlantans have come to know and love. Sixty designer trees and wreaths will be on display and for sale. The festival will also include an interactive train model, international village and a holiday gift shop. Tickets are $15 and proceeds will benefit Children’s Healthcare.

Children’s Healthcare spokeswoman Kristina Long said the changes in this year’s festival were motivated by a couple different factors involving the availability of the Georgia World Congress Center.

“Due to some scheduling changes and because we were going to lose a weekend, we just decided to scale back,” Long said.

But thanks to the generous donation of space from both the History Center and Simon Malls, which will be hosting “Honor Tree” displays, Long said the most important tradition of honoring the hospital’s patients will remain.

“Honoring patients and families is the biggest tradition,” Long said. “We’re excited about preserving the honor trees. We’re also starting some new traditions.”

Atlanta History Center spokeswoman Hillary Hardwick said the center reached out to festival organizers after the announcement was made that the festival could not be held at the World Congress Center downtown. The History Center realized that at the time of the festival, it would have 10,000 square feet of open gallery space where the Ben Franklin: In Search of a Better World” exhibit had been. That exhibit closed on Oct. 14.

Hardwick said the relationship between the two organizations is a perfect fit.

“The Festival of Trees is a 30-year old tradition,” she said. “It has become a part of Atlanta history.”

At the History Center, the festival will have the use of three gallery spaces. Hardwick said while festival goers may be used to a much bigger space, the center is bracing for the increased visitors.

“This isn’t the 150,000 square feet they’re used to,” Hardwick said. “It’s much more a boutique version. But we are ready.”

Hardwick said the History Center is confident the festival will be a success in its new location because of the success of the two previous exhibits that occupied the space, both the Ben Franklin exhibit and a previous show on Martin Luther King, Jr.

The festival, however, will not be entirely confined within the History Center’s walls.

The honor trees will be on display at several malls throughout the metro area. Long explained the special trees honor Children’s patients who are, or have been, under the hospital’s care for a variety of ailments. Each tree is created by a local designer and includes each child’s back story and medical condition.

“It’s designed specifically for them,” Long said. “It’s very cool.

In addition, each honor trees includes themes chosen by the patient. Consequently, Long said visitors will likely encounter several trees with sports, ballerina and princess themes.

These trees will be on display from Dec. 1 to 9 at Lenox Square, Phipps Plaza, Town Center at Cobb, Northlake, Gwinnett Place and Discover Mills malls, as well as the Mall of Georgia.

To kick off the festival, Children’s will host its 27th Annual Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Christmas Parade on Dec. 1 from 10:30 a.m. to noon. The one and a half mile parade route will start downtown on Peachtree Street near Baker Street. Attendees can purchase breakfast packages for $30 each and grandstand tickets for $10 in advance.

Prior to the parade, a preview party will also be held at the Atlanta History Center. The “Champagne Dreams and Holiday Miracles” dessert preview party will be held Nov. 30 from 8 to 11 p.m. and the cost is $35 per person. Parking is free.

Hardwick said both the Atlanta History Center and the Festival of Trees organizers will examine the success of this year’s event to gauge whether the center will be an appropriate home for the holiday tradition in the future.

“It’s the hope of both of us that it’ll work out for the future,” she said.