SALT LAKE CITY — The families that come together each year to create stunningly beautiful Christmas trees, gingerbread houses, holiday doors and decor all have one thing in common: They're invested in the Primary Children's Hospital.
Many decorators have had children treated at the hospital and their lives saved through the efforts of caregivers at Primary Children's.
Many have lost little ones to birth defects or disease and want to memorialize them.
Others simply want to take the opportunity to give.
"The first tree we did was to kind of say 'thank you,’ ” said Jeanne Fry of Morgan. "Our miracle baby, Matthew, was born with multiple heart defects. They treated him for 2½ years because there was no surgery at that time to help him."
He spent every Christmas for his first three years at the hospital.
Eventually the doctor who developed the "transposition of the great arteries" procedure performed the delicate, innovative surgery successfully.
Nine years ago when Matthew was old enough to go on a Mormon mission, the family decided to do a tree in his honor. Fry wrote to mission presidents all over the world and asked for ornaments from their country to adorn a tree dedicated to missionaries.
The result was a mission tree that is on display every year in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Office Building in the mission department.
The Fry family has been hooked on contributing to the festival ever since.
"We're not wealthy but by being frugal we can do a tree and someone with money can buy it and contribute four to five times the amount of money we could give," Fry said. "It's just turned into a great tradition. My daughters and my daughters-in-law do it with me. My husband funds it."
Fry said she starts the day after Christmas hunting ornaments and decoration for the next year's tree.
Her son today is healthy, a police officer, and father of twin boys and a baby girl.
The groundbreaking surgery was done last year on a neighbor boy born with the same condition as Matthew's.
"So we've kind of come full circle," Jeanne Fry said. "(Primary Children's Hospital) is the most wonderful organization. Everyone there is so kind."
Anna Myers' daughter, Alyse, has undergone three open heart surgeries at Primary Children's. She's 17 today and a go-getter.
"You can't stop her," said Myers, who lives in Highland.
The Myers are getting their 16th tree ready for the 2013 Festival of Trees. They've decorated a Christmas wedding tree, a tree featuring Native American art and color, a Japanese-themed tree, trees with carousels, and a Secret Garden tree.
This year's tree is a traditional one called "Star of Wonder," featuring shepherds, sheep, angels and Nativity figures.
Myers has a handmade quilt and tree skirt to go with it.
"We love it. We just kind of made it a tradition," Myers said. "My whole family does it."
The first two years, Myers said she "had no clue," but each year she's learned new tricks about decking out a tree.
Everyone in the family helps shop, prep and put up the tree, which then goes on display for auction the first week in December.
Julie Phillips of Provo started decorating and donating trees in 1987. Her son was treated for kidney failure at Primary Children's and "has helped decorate our tree since he was a teenager.
"The family tradition of decorating a tree has included children, grandchildren, friends and colleagues," she said. "We hope the tradition goes on and on."
Phillips said while her son helps her with ideas for the tree decorations and is a vital part of what she does for the festival, it is more about the gift than the thank-you.
"I'm always thinking about it," she said. "Sometimes I'll just see something and that'll start an idea. This year I was going through a quilt magazine and found a pattern for snowflakes."
She just loves the magic, the planning and everything that goes with the festival event.
"Of course, I could not do anything without my husband and my son," she said.
Emily Shepherd and her husband, of Farmington, watch a lot of Disney movies with their young children, so as a family they decorate an animated movie-themed tree each year.
Last year was "Princess and the Frog." This year's tree features "Ratatouille" movie characters.
Marnie Bushman, of Brigham City, and a group of family and friends — Zach's Helping Hands — are doing a memorial tree for her son Zach, who died in 2009 at the age of 8.
Lani Allen's son, Daniel Alexander Allen, died at age 7½ on Aug. 22, 2011, following a two-year battle with medulloblastoma brain cancer.
Since Daniel loved all things to do with Lightning McQueen, the family's tree is "Geared up for Christmas" with lots of red color, checkered flags and cars.
"Our family has made a tradition of supporting the Festival of Trees in honor of our little angel to give back to the hospital that did so much for him and to help other children, like Daniel, receive much-needed care," Allen said.
Antoinette Robinson of Springville is decorating a tree for her ninth year simply to help.
"It is such an honor to be a part of Festival of Trees," Robinson said. "I have friends and family who have had to take their children to (Primary Children's). It is such a blessing to have the hospital."
Last year, the Festival of Trees raised $1,871,546.91. Every dollar goes to the Primary Children's Hospital as a "Gift of Love" from the volunteers who donate the trees, their time and expertise.
Over the past 43 years, more than $33 million has been raised.
The festival includes more than 700 trees, a gingerbread house village, entertainment from local song and dance groups, children's games and activity center, a holiday gift boutique, an aisle of festive wreaths, a Sweet Shoppe, hot scones and cinnamon rolls.
If you go:
What: 2013 Festival of Trees
When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Dec. 4-7
Where: South Towne Expo Center, 9575 S. State Street, Sandy
Tickets: $5 adults, $3 children; $15 family (up to six); $4 discount tickets available at Zions Bank and for seniors; $30 opening night auction for two adults. Call 801-662-5957.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.
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