Touring the Southwest Virginia Museum this time of year is like walking through a holiday wonderland. All four floors of the stately Victorian home that houses the museum’s collections are lavishly decorated for the holiday season. With festive music playing throughout the building and the soft twinkle of holiday lights at every turn, visitors are instantly charmed by the spectacle that is the Festival of Trees.
The tradition of the Festival of Trees began fourteen years ago as a way to celebrate the holiday traditions of the Victorian era as well as to honor the role that C. Bascom Slemp, the driving force behind the establishment of the museum, played in establishing the American tradition of a “national Christmas tree.” Mr. Slemp served as the personal secretary to President Calvin Coolidge. In 1923, a group from the Electrical League and the Washington, D.C. public schools approached him with an idea for a Christmas tree to be erected on the White House lawn. Mr. Slemp took the idea to the First Lady, Grace Coolidge, who took up the cause. She recommended that the tree be placed on the ellipse south of the White House and a tradition was born.
Volunteers from around the Southwest Virginia region continue these traditions by putting up holiday trees and decorating mantels, doorways and banisters throughout the Southwest Virginia Museum, sharing their creative talents and holiday spirit with all who come to the site. This year, 80 groups have given their time and talent to create truly beautiful displays. Visitors can tour the Festival of Trees during regular museum hours and during special “night viewings,” scheduled for each Saturday in December. Admission to the museum is $3.00 for adults; $2.00 for children ages 6-12. Children under 6 are free. Group rates are available for parties of 10 or more. For more information about the Festival of Trees, please contact the Southwest Virginia Museum at 276-523-1322.