Early Christmas decorating at the Southwest Virginia Museum’s Festival of Trees

Mike Still • Nov 11, 2019 at 6:00 PM

BIG STONE GAP — Some people may not like putting up Christmas decorations in November, but the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park has been popular for doing just that for a quarter-century.

Museum staff and volunteers on Saturday opened the museum’s 24th annual Festival of Trees with a tree lighting and tour of what is now open to the public — 82 themed Christmas trees, decorated fireplace mantel and doorway displays throughout the museum’s basement and three floors.

Museum Historical Park Manager Aaron Davis told Saturday’s audience that the festival represents a sense of community not for common interests. The trees and décor bring together different groups and people to put aside their differences and to share the spirit of the Christmas season, he said.

Amaris Bowman, with a little help from Lotus Hunnicutt, used a “magic” wand to light the Pepsi-Cola tree in the main parlor and bring the festival to its official start. Amaris’ mother, Nikki Legg, helped set up the Appalachian Feline Friends “12 Cats of Christmas” tree.

“This is our busiest time of the year,” Davis said as he walked through the first floor’s trees. “Natural Tunnel has its Christmas lights display, and we do get a lot of people who do both. They’ll go to the tunnel first and come here or come her first and go on the tunnel, and it works well for both parks.”

Visitors moving through each floor of the museum can see the trees and displays intermingled with the museum’s collection of 19th and early 20th century Southwest Virginia artifacts from the mansion’s last private owner, congressman and former presidential secretary C. Bascom Slemp.

In a first-floor sitting room, a bust and portrait of Slemp are flanked by two trees.

Some trees adorn parlors and sitting rooms, while others highlight an old loom, a phonograph, displays of farm implements or mannequins in period clothing.

In the basement, the Friends of the Southwest Virginia Museum have decorated a tree with memories in the form of photographs from the area’s history. Snapshots of old local baseball and football teams, towns, mines and even Big Stone Gap native and former Virginia Gov. A. Linwood Holton Jr., hang from the branches.

The range of trees represent churches, family commemorations, schools, colleges, community service groups, businesses, civic organizations, emergency services and towns.

Davis said the variety of trees is part of what he enjoys about the festival.

“What I find amazing is how many unique trees we see each year,” Davis said. “We had a Sharknado tree one year, where they set it upside down and wrapped ribbons around it in swirls of ribbons to look like a tornado. And then there all these shark ornaments sticking out of the tree.”

Even Star Wars and classic movie monster trees have made it into the festival lineup over the years, Davis said.

“The nighttime viewing of the trees is also a big attraction,” Davis said. “You can see many of these trees through the windows from the road and grounds, and lots of people come by the museum after hours for that.”

When asked if he has set up his tree at home, Davis laughed.

“I have 82 trees to see every day.”

The Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park is open through November and December, and the Festival of Trees continues through December. Special evening hours, 5-8 p.m. will be on Nov. 23 and 30 and on Saturdays in December.

Regular museum winter hours are:

Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Sunday, 1-5 p.m.

The museum is closed Mondays. For more information on the park and the Festival of Trees, visit the museum website at http://www.swvamuseum.org, or call (276) 523-1322.