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Samantha Johnson, 5, of Haverhill, Mass., enjoyed the butterfly ornaments on a tree at the 15th annual Festival of Trees in Exeter on Thursday. (JASON SCHREIBER/Union Leader Correspondent)

Festival of Trees lights up Exeter

EXETER — Joanna Suprock always attends the Festival of Trees in Exeter at night, but this year was a little different.

Suprock is a mother for the first time this Christmas and brought her 10-month-old son, Benjamin, along for the experience in his stroller.

This year she came during the day because it was easier than bringing Benjamin at night, but the experience was just as bright and festive.

"This is his first time looking at the trees and he's very enthralled," she said.

Benjamin was one of the many children and adults whose eyes sparkled at the 15th annual Festival of Trees held Thursday inside the Exeter Town Hall.

The festival is held as part of the official start of the holiday season in downtown Exeter and was followed by the 27th Annual Holiday Open House hosted by the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday night.

The open house features a lighting ceremony downtown, horse-drawn hay wagon rides, a gingerbread decorating contest, and an appearance by Santa Claus at the bandstand.

The Festival of Trees has raised more than $250,000 since it began to benefit the Chamber Children's Fund, a charity that provides warm clothing to families with children in need in Brentwood, East Kingston, Epping, Exeter, Kensington, Kingston, Newfields, Newmarket, Raymond and Stratham.

The live trees were decorated by individuals, businesses and community groups and auctioned off through a silent auction held throughout the day.

Dan Jackson of Arjay's Ace Hardware in Exeter donated the trees and the tree stands were donated by Jack-Post Corp.

The festival started with just 15 trees and has increased to 51 trees in addition to a raffle tree and an underwriter sponsorship tree.

"It was a breeze this year. It's our 15th year and people know the routine," said Jan Russell, festival organizer.

Barbara Johnson of Kensington and her 5-year-old granddaughter, Samantha Johnson, attended the festival for the first time this year.

Samantha's favorite tree was one decorated by Fairfield Inn & Suites that featured light-up butterflies.

"I think it's pretty nice. I didn't know what to expect," Johnson said.

She admired the trees but had no plans to place a bid on them this year.

"I just got a tree so I'm just looking, but I would have bid on that one for sure," she said, pointing to the butterfly tree.

Lynn Maloney of Portsmouth checked out the trees with her daughter, Hadley, 2½.

"It feels like the season has now started," she said.

Maloney said it's always nice to see people bidding on the trees even when times are tough.

"It's just a feeling of community here," she said.

The spirit of the season will continue Saturday when the town's annual holiday parade will be held. The parade steps off from the Osram/Sylvania parking lot on Portsmouth Avenue at 5:30 p.m. and passes through downtown.


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