Each year, the passing of Thanksgiving means that the holiday cheer — decorations, peppermint-flavored everything and general excitement — is in full swing. It’s getting colder and colder outside and snow is on its way. The red holiday cups have returned to Starbucks. People are beginning to embrace the spirit of giving, which seems to have definitively begun this holiday season on Nov. 17 at the Anah Shrine in Bangor.
The annual “Feztival of Trees” opened its doors one week before Thanksgiving at the Anah Shrine’s new location on Broadway.
According to the Anah Shrine website, the objective of the Feztival of Trees is “to have organizations and businesses donate fully decorated artificial trees that will be displayed throughout the event. The public is invited to come and see this extravaganza of trees, as well as some special displays benefiting the Christmas Theme [sic]…raffle tickets will be available for sale so that the viewers may enter their tickets in the hopes of winning a beautiful tree.”
One of the parts that people like the most is if you find yourself lucky enough to win a tree, not only do you get to take home the tree itself, but you would also receive everything on and under the tree as well. Most businesses put appealing items like vouchers and gift cards on the tree, and higher-priced items underneath the tree. Old Town Canoe, for example, had two kayaks, among many other gifts under their tree this year.
Each tree was sponsored and decorated by an area business, whether it’s a local business like Old Town Canoe, or a larger chain store like Target.
Anah Shrine’s potentate, Bob Turner, was delighted in the different types of businesses that sponsored each tree.
“From the radio stations that Stephen King owns, we have a tree with all his books [underneath], we have a tree from Darling’s, we have a tree from Varney’s, we have a tree from Hartt’s Transportation, Henry’s Bridal, there’s a lady here that’s a Pampered Chef, someone’s got a Lego tree, and just – you’ve gotta [sic] walk through,” Turner said. “And then, of course, we have Santa! We have pictures that we give to all the adults of the kids, and it’s free [or] for donations.”
The event grows each year, according to Turner. In 2012, at Anah Shrine’s very first Feztival of Trees, there were 24 trees up for grabs. This year, there were 67.
The Feztival is essentially one giant raffle; patrons pay a small entry fee (just $2 for anyone over the age of 12) and purchase tickets, which were sold for 50 cents each. There is also a 50/50 raffle, which climbs higher and higher each day of the Feztival.
The event is in its fifth year (it began in 2012) and its purpose is to raise money for the Anah Shrine’s philanthropic efforts, where they treat and assist children at Shriners Hospitals around the country regardless of their ability to pay. The Anah Shriners in Bangor mostly support the two closest Shriner Hospitals in Boston and Springfield, Mass.
Turner did not disclose the fundraising goal for this year’s Feztival of Trees, nor did he disclose previous years’ tallies. However, Turner did reveal his optimism with a quiet smile.
This year, the Anah Shriners expected to see anywhere from 15,000 to 18,000 patrons walk through the doors over the course of the event’s two-week stint. The last day of the Feztival of Trees was Sunday, Nov. 27.
“It draws people. Some people I saw were here from New York, there’s people here from Rhode Island, of course they’re all up here visiting, but you know, it’s a family event,” Turner said. “Grandmothers, mothers, children are coming…and it’s inexpensive.”
Tom Seymour, a three-year member of the Anah Shrine and the director of the Feztival of Trees, appreciates the small businesses that participate.
“We have a lot of small businesses [that sponsor trees], and that means so much,” Seymour said. “We have big box stores as well, but the small businesses that are out there are unbelievable [with] what they’ve given, and we are able to use that. It’s pretty amazing, the generosity of them [sic]. Of course, with 18,000 people [coming] through the door, we’re hoping that the small businesses get recognized.”
There are 196 Shrines internationally and Anah is just one of two in the state of Maine and one of fifteen chapters in the Northeast. The Anah Shrine has about 2,750 members. Within the Shrine, there are about 33 different units which cover every function from clowns to go-karts. For the Feztival of Trees, each member has a specific duty, from advertisement and security to decorations to cooking at the on-site café.
The new building, which the Anah Shrine moved into on Broadway in August of 2015, allowed just enough space for the Feztival of Trees. The Anah Shrine remained at the same previous location in downtown Bangor, right next to Hollywood Slots, for 35 years. According to both Turner and Seymour, there simply was not enough room, especially for parking spaces. The new location has ample room both indoors for events and outdoors for parking.
The Anah Shrine holds a special place in Seymour’s heart.
“My favorite part is the comradery. Family. The friendship. My brother and my father are Shriners, a lot of good friends, and the brotherhood…and we do help children, and that’s a whole end cause,” Seymour said.
“I joined the Shrine to help children,” Turner said definitively. “The Shrine is here to help kids, and they have an awful lot of fun doing it…it’s a big family. We’re a big family.”
Turner has been a Shriner for 16 years.
It’s easy to see that the Feztival of Trees has raked in success — and certainly philanthropic funds — for the Anah Shrine. On any given day of the event, the line was out the door and around the side of the building. This, Seymour said, allows Anah Shrine to keep giving back to both the children and the greater Bangor community.
“In the future, we’re gonna [sic] try to make a quality show for our patrons that come in,” Seymour said. “Keep it over the top, and keep holding the most exciting Feztival of Trees in the state of Maine.”
For more information about the Anah Shrine, please visit their website.