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21 April 2018Article in the Orcadian by Tom Lennie

With all the usual busyness that overtakes near everyone in the immediate lead-up to Christmas, one might be forgiven for overlooking a truly delightful event that took place in one Orkney parish this past festive season. The occasion in question was the 'Community Festival of Christmas Trees', organised by and held in the Orphir kirk from mid December until Thursday 4th January. While there are a couple of other sporadic Christmas Tree Festivals within Scotland (namely,in Aberdeen, Pitlochry and Edinburgh), this is believed to be the very first of its kind in Orkney.
   
The original idea came from an article in a Flower Magazine, shown to Elaine Gunn, about a similar event held in a church somewhere in England. Wondering if this might catch on in her local kirk, Elaine shared the idea with church colleagues, and the project was quickly given the thumbs up. This led to the first 'Community Festival of Christmas Trees' being organised in 2016. 

The kirk bought in 20 trees - pot grown, so they could be planted out afterwards (thus environmentally friendly). Invitations were sent to each of the numerous social and sports groups that exist throughout Orphir and Stenness, as well as to the two parish Primary Schools, and extended to any individual who was up for a challenge, offering them the use of a tree, with the request that they decorate it according to a specific theme. 

The 2016 theme was 'Christmas Carols' - which turned out to be most appropriate, as almost by chance the kirk had also initiated a knitting project relating to the 12 days of Christmas, and the results of this were used to decorate the windowsills below each tree. Delightfully, the project met with great enthusiasm, virtually every group that was invited being more than willing to contribute to the novel project.

Building on the success of the 2016 event, the kirk decided to repeat the Festival the following year, buying in 25 trees in the lead-up to Christmas 2017 (donations from visitors being relied on to recoup costs, any surplus going towards the Kirk Fabric Fund). Every tree was taken, resulting in an even more varied and colourful Festival display. The theme for 2017 was 'Words that sound like ‘tree’.
   
Community groups that contributed included the Orphir Badminton Club, (who imaginatively created conifer trees out of painted shuttle-cocks under the heading ‘Forestry’); the Stenness Rainbows and Brownies, whose creation transformed the entrance window into a ‘Rabbitry’, with an owl looking down from the tree top; one group of ladies daring to decorate their tree with undies from Balinese bloomers and thick knitted knickers to lacies wisps from vibrant coloured vests to sensible simmits to fulfil their chosen ‘Pantry and Vestry!’ and loads more.
   
The organisers also created a 'Mind and Memory Tree' in the entrance foyer; people could write names or messages about folk unable to be with them for any reason over the festive period, and hang them on the tree. Additionally, two fun, observational quizzes based around the trees were designed - for adults and children respectively, and these proved very popular.

It really was a delight to take time to wander around the church sanctuary and observe the truly ingenious ways the various groups and individuals had picked topics that complied with the stated theme (from Artistry, Country, Complimentary, and Dietry to Symmetry, Trigonometry, Westray and Wintry ), and then intricately create tree decorations that matched these topics. The time and effort put into each tree could be wasted on no observer. Teas, coffees and home-bakes were served in the kirk hall, also allowing a time of reflection and chat.
  
The whole aim of the event was of course to bring the local community together, and to act as a fun project that people of all ages could take part in. Absolutely no-one could doubt that the organisers succeeded in both goals. The Festival was open from 10 till 4 on the Saturday before Christmas, as well as on the two Thursday mornings, during the time of the weekly coffee morning. The trees could also be viewed in their full glory at the Christmas Eve carol service from 11.30 pm.

The genuinely innovative Festival made for a truly welcome diversion from the usual commerce-led (and often stressful) activities of Christmas shopping! Hugely positive feedback from the event was good evidence of the project’s success. The Christmas edition of BBC’s ‘Countryfile’ featured the now annual Christmas Tree Festival in the Cotswolds village of Castleton, which over the years has become so popular it brings visitors from far and wide. The Orphir kirk intends to repeat its Festival of Christmas Trees in 2018 and beyond, whether it will soon meet with equally widespread appeal remains to be seen, but it certainly deserves to.

by Tom Lennie, The Orcadian January 2018

21 April 2018Christmas Tree Festival 2017

This year the kirk purchased 25 trees, 5 more than last year. The age range of participants was from nursery children to the ladies and gents of the 'Diamond Club'. School classes, sports and social groups as well as friends, families and indivuduals took part - a true community effort. 

To ensure this was an inclusive event Kirk funds were used to purchase the trees; this enabled anyone who wished to take part to do so.  The whole aim of the Festival is a fun community project and outreach. The buzz about the Kirk throughout December is evidence of the success of the project. We rely on donations of visitors to the Kirk to recoup the costs. This we have managed to do both years with a modest surplus which has gone towards the Kirk Fabric Fund

As well as being the most northerly (as far as we can asertain) Christmas Tree Festival we believe the knitting project, the quizzes and the cafe as well as the truely community effort  make our tree festival unique!

21 April 2018Christmas Tree Festival 2016

In December 2016 we held our first 'Community Festival of Christmas Trees' in the Orphir and Stenness Kirk. We purchased 20 pot grown chrstmas trees which could be planted out afterwards (environmentally friendly). The theme was 'Christmas Carols'. Local community groups were invited to decorate a tree to represent a Christmas Carol.

Almost by chance we had a knitting project which we used to decorate under the windowsills (inspiration came from a knitting book in the library about the 12 days of Christmas) as the theme for that year was 'Christmas Carols' it was fitting.  The project was met with so much enthusiasm - people who would/could not do a tree could participate by knitting.  We decided to incorporate a knitting crocheting project again the following year.  


We also created a 'Mind and Memory Tree' in the entrance foyer - People could write names or messsages about folk who could not be with them for any reason over the festive period and hang them on the tree. 

A quiz about the trees was designed - one for adults and one for children.  This was much appreciated and will become an annual feature. 

We opened our Community Cafe at extra times to coincide with the Tree Festival opening hours.
 

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