For many people, decorating a Christmas tree is one of the highlights of the holiday season but for the decorators who volunteered to participate in the New London Downtown Association’s annual tree auction this past weekend, trimming the tree was much more than a family tradition.
Perched high on ladders, 16 teams of decorators representing a variety of organizations including La Latina Network, , , the New London Rotaract, and , strung lights and hung ornaments on uniquely designed trees. All of the trees were auctioned on December 3, with proceeds to benefit the on Montauk Avenue.
This is the eighth year that New London Downtown Association has held the tree auction. The first year the event featured 20 trees. This year’s event had 16 trees, all fresh cut from Uklejas Christmas Tree Farm in Quaker Hill, which offered trees at a discount for the fundraiser.
The trees were as varied as the different organizations that supported them. On the Friday before the auction, Cheryl Gilot, troop leader for Girl Scout Troop #63812 in Mystic, looked on as four girl scouts crafted poinsettia stars out of colorful paper and made paper chains to adorn their tree, which was laden with chew toys, dog treats, and featured a prominent Snoopy. Their theme was “To the Dogs.”
New London’s Boy Scout Troop 11 designed a “man cave” tree, decorated with baseball cards, sports memorabilia, a remote control and a bag of popcorn to be enjoyed later. The had a historic maritime theme, while went with a Caribbean theme, with blue ribbons, orange fish and a great white shark.
Designer Gina Barber has been decorating the tree sponsored by for eight years. Trying to come up with a new theme each year, she said, is always a challenge. This year she opted for a circus theme but the real struggle was getting the lights to work.
Since its inception, the tree auction has been a roving event, held in a different space in New London each year ranging from vacant store fronts to the Crocker House. This year the auction was held in the ballroom of the New London , of which tree auction organizer Barbara Neff is also a member.
“This really is a great event for the Elks,” said Elks Trustee Keith Robbins, noting that the organization routinely supports fundraisers that benefit local youth and families in need. “The Elks are in New London and are proud and happy to be a part of it.”
For an admission price of $10, the event included hors d’oeuvres donated by the New London Elks Lodge, along with beer and wine, and entertainment provided by saxophone Santa.
The bidding started at $125 a tree but as with any auction, the actual price each sold for varied. Two trees last year fetched $600, for instance, which helped raise a total of $3,710 for the soup kitchen to provide holiday meals to local families in need.
The highest bidders didn’t have to worry about how to get their trees home. The day after the auction, each tree was shrink-wrapped, fully decorated, and transported by truck to each person’s house.
“It’s an art,” said Neff, of the shrink-wrapping technique. “It took us four trees to learn how to do it the first year!”
Not everyone opted to take their tree home, however. In a number of cases, the highest bidders chose to donate their decorated trees to families which might otherwise have had no tree this Christmas.
“We work with Covenant Shelter,” said Neff. “Typically half of our trees get donated so people who can’t afford trees get trees. It’s a great way to start off your holiday!”