40 Years of Holiday Spirit
November 21, 2023

Written by Laura Roe Stevens | Photographed by Shane O'Donnell

This festival uplifts everyone who comes—especially our seniors and children. When they enter the large, white, iconic tent and look around at the trees and decorations, their faces light up. Its a wonderful feeling,” says co-chair Carolyn Snyder, who has been involved with Torrance Memorials Holiday Festival for 39 years.

In 1984, the first Festival of Trees—then a four-day event—was held in the hospitals underground garage and raised $10,000 from auctioned trees. Flash-forward to 2022, and Torrance Memorials Holiday Festival has grown into a six-day event with gorgeous trees, unique holiday finds, talented performances and more. Since its inception, it has raised nearly $16 million to support Torrance Memorial. Heres a look at some behind-the-scenes events that bring the spirit to life.

Santas Elves in the South Bay

Much like Santas workshop, the Holiday Festival has elves, in the form of dedicated volunteers who work year-round to craft, design and plan tree-themed ornaments, decorations and other delights. Festival Boutique volunteers are under the tutelage of Bev George, the co-chair of Torrance Memorials Holiday Festival since 2011. Bev has extensive career experience—from crafting to accounting—and trade show expertise in demonstrating, marketing, purchasing, pricing and selling products. All I did in my career led to this. Im so happy to be a part of it,” Bev says.

Thirty retired volunteers who want to give back gather year-round every Thursday. We do a lot—from inventorying in January to making mini trees, garlands, decorations and ornaments,” Bev explains. We have a pricing team, a craft group and glittering queens for the poinsettias. Everyone has a job.”

If You Build It, They Will Come

While the Holiday Festival tent is magical, it takes a village to create it. Just ask Lisa Takata, Torrance Memorial Foundation special events and Patrons program manager. Lisa and her team have the planning, installation and teardown of the tent down to a science.

Resurrecting the tent and subfloor starts the week before Thanksgiving and is a four- to five-day process,” she says. In addition, the daily floorplan turnovers for the various activities require thoughtful planning and coordination that begins six months before the event. For instance, the fashion show needs a runway, which is replaced by a dance floor for community entertainers the next day. The gala bar area in the evening becomes the kid zone area in the daytime. The gala cashier area becomes a food court for public days. Lighting and sound need to be changed daily as well. It can get challenging, but its very rewarding to be a part of creating the holiday magic.”

Cherished Memories

Every festival has a story,” says Carolyn. When asked to share just one memory, she finds it tricky. Rain has been a consistent theme. One year, the Los Angeles Times wrote: The Torrance Festival of Trees is L.A.s answer to the drought.It rains almost every year—usually during setup!”

Another consistent theme is Torrance Bakerys treats. They are always a huge hit—not just with human patrons.

One year, Torrance Bakery baked gingerbread houses and put them on a tree,” Carolyn shares. Birds flew into the tent. They thought the gingerbread houses were so good, they ate them all! Torrance Bakery had to bake all new ones for the people who bought the tree. Of course, we dont put baked goods on trees anymore!”

A Family Affair

Family time is a big part of the festival. Parents watch children perform in musical groups. Grandchildren hold their grandparentshands and walk (or race) around the winter wonderland. And volunteers often work with family members.

At one point, I had four generations in my family working together on this festival,” recalls Carolyn. My mother, four children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren decorated trees.”

Carolyn adds her familys favorite moments are seeing the faces of the people when they walk into the tent for the first time. Their eyes open, and they go, Ahh.Its worth it.”