BILLINGS — People filed through the MetraPark Montana Pavilion over the weekend to view beautiful decorated Christmas trees and support Billings nonprofit Family Tree Center in its 36th Festival of Trees.
This is the festival's first year back in person after 2020's festival was mostly virtual, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It’s so fun to be back in person this year and to be able to see everybody. It’s really a great way to start off the holiday season," said Stacy Dreessen, executive director at Family Tree Center.
The Festival of Trees is the main fundraiser of the year for Family Tree Center, a local nonprofit that seeks to end child abuse.
"It provides funds for us to be able to provide services to families. Services such as in-home mentoring, nurturing parenting classes and free respite childcare. We have all kinds of services really geared at supporting and strengthening families," Dreessen said.
Every year, the trees are decorated by people and groups who volunteer. Then the trees are auctioned off, with the proceeds going back to Family Tree Center.
It really did feel like Christmas inside the pavilion, with the walls decked with holly and even a synthetic ice rink, so people could try out ice skating, provided by Yellowstone Vally Figure Skating Club. Families could also get a photo with Santa Claus.
But the real stars of the afternoon might have been the 10 ladies with Golden Dancers, who are a mainstay act on the Festival of Trees stage. The group is made up of women aged 55 to 92, and some have been in the group for more than 10 years.
It's the camaraderie and just plain love of dancing that keeps the ladies coming back.
"For me, it's that I love to dance," said Sonya Skaggs, a 21-year member of the group.
“I love to dance too and these girls are great to dance with," added Rachel Rosin, a two-year member of the group.
The Golden Dancers are always looking for more members. The only requirement is you have to be 55 or older and they accept men too.