A function hall packed to the gills with plastic Christmas trees, hundreds of dollars of merchandise hanging from the limbs. Wooden doors standing on their own in the middle of a room, ornate wreaths positioned perfectly in the center. Santa Claus sitting in the corner, keeping a close eye on every boy and girl who comes through. It can only be one thing – the Feztival of Trees at the Bektash Shrine Center.
Yes, the annual Christmas tree extravaganza will return for an 18th year this weekend, and, as usual, this year’s Feztival will be the biggest one yet.
To the uninitiated, there’s a lot to catch you up on. The Feztival of Trees, which began in 2001, is an annual fundraiser for the Bektash Shriners, a fraternal organization based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth. Every year around Thanksgiving, the Bektash Shrine Center on Pembroke Road welcomes people to donate as many artificial Christmas trees as can be crammed into the building. Individuals and businesses always answer the call, routinely filling the function hall with more than 100 trees.
The trees usually have a certain theme, and loads of prizes that go along with that theme. Sometimes the prizes will be hanging from the tree, other times they’ll be piled up beneath it – a lot of times you’ll see both.
Over the course of the week, anyone can stop by and buy a sheet of raffle tickets for a chance to win some trees – and the prizes they come with. Each tree has a big PVC pipe in front of it with a slit somewhere near the top. Guests get to poke around and see which trees are the most appealing, pouring as many tickets as they want into whichever trees they like the most.
There is no limit to how many tickets you can buy or how many tickets you can dump into a single tree. Obviously, the more tickets you put into a given tree, the better your chances of winning. Some like to go all in on one or two of the big-money trees, while some like to diversify their chances by dropping just one or two tickets into 10 to 20 trees. It’s a fascinating case study in risk assessment, really.
There’s reason to spread the tickets around – there’s no limit to how many trees you can win. While the odds would be beyond astronomical, considering how many people show up to this thing, it is possible to win multiple trees.
The variety of the trees is really what makes this event so entertaining. Trees range from decorative and fancy to silly and ironic. Some are geared toward kids, some toward adults. Some have extremely high dollar values, others not as much. You’re just as likely to see a big-ticket item such as the Tool Tree – loaded with hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of high-end power tools – to one of my favorites from last year, the Cruising Through the Holidays tree, which was a Tom Cruise-themed tree that came with a glossy photo of him and the girlfriend character from Top Gun, among other Cruise swag.
Apart from the Tool Tree, a staple at the Feztival for several years now, the Treasure Tree has also become a huge hit. This is a tree with about $1,200 worth of scratch tickets draped all over it, meaning the winner could potentially become a millionaire if enough of the tickets hit. Even if there’s not a single winner among the scratch tickets, there’s a $2,000 cash prize that comes with the tree, too, so you win big even if you lose on the tickets.
The Treasure Tree is run separately from everything else. Tickets for this tree are $5 apiece or three for $10, and those tickets are sold right there in front of the tree.
Other notable, big-time trees include one donated by BJ’s and one by Sam’s Club, both containing high-end electronics such as TVs, drones, Bluetooth speakers, DVD players, video games and more. Last year there was also a tree that came with a full-size kayak, and another that included a Power Wheels truck. Sam’s Club and BJ’s have trees that are so big and full of so many prizes, they set them up well in advance – unlike the rest of the trees, which are set up on site the night before the Feztival begins – and Starving Artist Movers pick them up fully assembled and deliver them to the Shrine Center.
The sheer volume of trees involved tells you this is a serious event. Last year there were 106 trees, the most ever at that point. This year there are 115, and Shriner Past Potentate Todd Dooley said they’re right about at capacity now.
“We don’t want to offend people who have supported us these years, but we have to have some sort of cutoff,” he said, acknowledging that people still need room to walk around.
Due to the unprecedented number of trees this year, one element of the Feztival has been eliminated – the silent auction. In years past, a room right off the main function hall was reserved for items that stood alone – things like a gas grill, a bike, a basket of nip bottles – to be bid on by silent auction. Because of all the trees this year, that room will instead be used for – you guessed it – more trees.
In a separate room, there will be about a dozen mini trees set up. These ones will be done in a silent auction, with the highest bidder winning the tree. Also operating by way of silent auction will be the wreaths. About a dozen doors will be set up somewhere in the function hall, with a wreath up for auction on each door. The mini trees and the wreaths are really more for decoration than anything else, but they’re still very popular, Dooley said.
Apart from all the trees and wreaths, there will also be photo opportunities with Santa Claus, who is always the star of the Feztival of Trees. The Candy Cane Café will also be open, serving up hot food and refreshing beverages all week long. Dooley said the food is so good and affordable that last year a group of people who work close by came to the Feztival every day just to eat lunch.
Another perk of the Feztival is that you only have to pay admission ($5 for adults, $4 for seniors, free for kids 12 and under) once. Once you pay your admission, you’ll be given a program, which will allow you to enter as many times as you want as long as you show it. (Pro tip: Go on Saturday morning, the first day it opens, and hold onto that program for the rest of the week. You’ll want to go back again and again.)
The Feztival runs every day from this Saturday until the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with the exception of Thanksgiving itself, during which the Feztival will be closed. The hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except for Monday and that final Sunday (Nov. 25), when things will wrap up at 4 p.m. instead of 7.
Winners of everything – the big trees, mini trees and wreaths – will be drawn as soon as the Feztival ends. It’s very important to keep your phone on starting at 4 p.m. on Nov. 25 – winners will receive one phone call, and if you don’t answer, another ticket will be pulled and your chance will be gone. You do not want to be the one who missed the call, only to call back and find out someone else has now won what could’ve been your tree.
Raffle tickets for the regular trees are $5 for a sheet of 25. The mini trees, wreaths and the Treasure Tree are run separately. There will be a “Senior Special” running Monday through Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., during which seniors get in for free. For more info, go to bektashshriners.org.