Tyrannosaurus Rex and his cohorts, Triceratops, Stegosaurus and Pteranodon, have come out of extinction to bring mammoth-size Christmas joy to children needing medical treatment.

Rudolph, in fact, is taking a back seat to the prehistoric lizards, who are among the lively characters to capture the spotlight at the 18th annual Festival of Trees in the Salt Palace.More than 80,000 Utahns are expected to officially kick off the Christmas season at the festival - a "gift of love" to needy children treated at Primary Children's Medical Center.

Last year, the pediatric hospital provided $2.8 million in donated charity care to help more than 1,700 children. A substantial portion of that money came from the enchanting festival, which continues through Dec. 3.

Tuesday night the festivities began when businesswoman Debbi Fields and 7-year-old cancer patient Chante' Wouden flipped the switch opening the wonderland to the public.

Chante', daughter of George and Kathy Wouden of North Ogden, had a lot to celebrate.

When she was just 2, physicians discovered a tumor on Chante's right hip. Surgery and chemotherapy kept her in remission for two years, but at age 6, tumors were discovered on her spine and skull.

Since then Chante' has had seven surgeries; she underwent two weeks of radiation therapy in October. But the worst could be behind her.

"Chante's last CT scan showed that the skull and spine tumors have almost disappeared," said Kathy Wouden. "Because of her cancer, Chante' has not grown physically since age 3. She's paid a price. But with the results of the last scan, it's like Christmas has come early for us."

It also came early for other Utahns who worked on more than 280 creatively decorated trees, donated by businesses, religious, civic and school organizations, as well as individuals and families. Decorations represent a variety of themes and feature a myriad of unique materials - from blown glass to balloons to dog biscuits to plastic blocks.

The Jack Nipko family presented "Wooden Holidays," a collapsible wooden tree that features characters from every holiday. Questar employees designed "Santa's Christmas," a traditional tree decorated with handmade wooden toys and and miniature cross-stitched hoops.

Against tradition, but in the spirit of family fun, the Salt Lake Board of Realtors' tree, "Take a Ride on the Reading," sits atop a Monopoly Game. There's also "Gingerbread Fantasy," "Carpenter's Xmas," "Pony Paradise" and, of course, "Santasaurus."

The Academy of Ballet Arts and the Chatterton family of Sandy presented "Nutcracker," a tree featuring ballet point shoes and hand-painted characters from the famous Christmas ballet. It's one of many trees dedicated to the memory of a child whose life was taken by illness or accident.

Many other trees this year, however, were donated in appreciation by families of youngsters whose lives have been spared.

Outside the forest of sparkling trees, festivalgoers can wander through the gift boutique, featuring handmade toys, quilts, dolls, quiet books, children's clothing and ornaments.

This year's festival introduces a "limited edition" cookie cookbook that features two cookie recipes from Mrs. Fields, a mother of four girls who, with husband Randy, has donated more than $2 million to the children's hospital.

Speaking of goodies, the Sweet Shoppe offers a taste of Christmas with freshly baked breads, cakes, cookies, fudge, divinity and chocolates.

Don't miss the Gingerbread Village, the Small Fry Shop, the Aisle of Wreaths, Table Top Fantasy Avenue and entertainment by more than 150 groups. Celebrity Santa will also be on hand throughout the week to take requests from children.

"The festival is a celebration of our community spirit, as well as a beautiful tribute to the Christmas season," said Elda Rae Gunn, chairwoman of the Women's Endowment Board, a volunteer organization that sponsors the annual festival.

The festival is a celebration for the entire family.

tickets can be purchased at Zions First National Bank for $2.25 for adults, $1.25 for children or at the door for $2.75 for adults and $1.50 for children.