‘Deck The Trees’ and gild the ministry

Paul Clark paul@blackmountainnews.com

Some people go all out for Christmas and decorate a half dozen Christmas trees in their home. For those who would rather not - and that includes most of us - there’s Deck The Trees, an annual fairyland of festive Christmas trees whose popularity raises money for the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry.

With Kevin Anderson's help at the Monte Vista Hotel, Susan Hanning (right) and Ann Whisenant decorate the Red House Gallery's tree for Deck the Trees.

Every year, businesses, community groups and local residents decorate Christmas trees around a certain theme and display them at the historic Monte Vista Hotel. People stop by, between Dec. 1-25 this year, to take in the finery and fun and have the opportunity to support the ministry and its good works by “voting” for their favorite trees with cash or checks.

“Besides being a compassionate, giving town, Black Mountain is blessed with talented people who share their talents by creating Christmas trees that are works of art, whimsy, and delight,” said Sue Conlon, one of the owners of The Monte Vista Hotel. “Walking into the magic of the Monte Vista during Christmas reignites the wonder and mystery that is Christmas.

“Black Mountain is a generous town, and it has a history of responding to the needs of the community.”

Now in its sixth year, Deck The Trees (a holiday tradition for many families who go year after year) raises money for the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry’s Fuel Fund, which provides assistance for residents who need help with staying warm in winter.

The theme changes each year (last year's theme was “Christmas is...”). The theme this year is “So This Is Christmas,” inspired by a song by John Lennon. Creators of the trees will draw inspiration from the lyrics.

Many businesses have participated year after year, like Chifferobe and Doncaster Outlets. Europa, with its spectacular European ornaments, will be back for a third year. Kilwin’s, the purveyor of all things sweet and yummy, is a favorite of the kids.

Some nonprofits that participate are the Black Mountain-Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce, the Black Mountain Fire Department, the Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League, and the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church Weekday School. Individuals who take part usually work on their own. Ray Mata, owner of Blue Ridge Pictures, has created a tree for five years.

Though the sentiments that adorn the tree are real (yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus), the trees themselves are artificial, because of fire regulations. But people ohh and ahh at the handiwork. And, filled with Christmas spirit, they make the event a success with their cash donations.

The trees win in two categories. The tree that generates the most money for the ministry is awarded a gift. Sylvia McCollum, an artist who designs silver jewelry, designed the tree that generated the most money in 2015.

The other award is is bestowed by Monte, the hotel cat. It is given to the creator of the tree under which he spends the most time each year.

“Winning is not the right term,” organizers said in a press release. “Every tree is a winner, as each tree generates interest and helps keep some family from having a cold winter. The community is truly the winner.”

Everyone who creates a tree feels like a winner. The people who give money feel like winners. SVCM wins because it can help warm families, who also win. From November 2015 through March 2016, SVCM provided heating assistance to 1,273 clients.

“It feels sort of like a Norman Rockwell Christmas when you see all the trees and know that each tree has been made out of a sense of love,” said event organizer Libba Fairleigh. “So, the town is the winner, each tree creator is a winner and all who view them win. It is a way we can all be a partner in the community.”

Checks that “voters” leave beneath their favorite tree (or trees) are tax-deductible. The ministry is a team of Christian churches, staff, and volunteers who work with the community to provide basic and emergency services to Swannanoa Valley residents and stranded travelers. It also offers help with job placement, job training, and educational advancement.

“SVCM assists anyone in the Valley, regardless of his or her religious affiliation or belief,” Fairleigh said. “Giving to the ministry ensures that the money given is used in the most economical way possible to help people.”

The Monte Vista Hotel absorbs the expenses for Deck The Trees so that every donated dollar goes to the ministry’s Fuel Fund. The hotel also buys the Waterford crystal items that go to the winning creators.

Viewers can see the trees daily from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. through Christmas Day. On Dec. 5, children can have their photos made with Santa from 4-7 p.m. The winning trees will be recognized in a special reception Dec. 15 between 6-8:30 p.m.

For the first time, organizers invited sponsors, local businesses and individuals, whose donations go to the Fuel Fund. This year’s sponsors include Dr. Mark Kleive, Tysons Furniture, Premier Sales and Marketing, Krista Anne’s, Town & Country Furniture Market and an anonymous donor.

People come to view and to donate out of their sense of gratitude of what they have been given. They want to share their resources with those in need,” Conlon said. “But they also come because the people in their community have created something of beauty that is not to be missed.”