LIMA — Chari Solomon wanted to recreate a Christmas tradition. And she has done exactly that during her nine years at the annual Christmas Tree Festival at the Allen County Museum.
Solomon makes and sells personalized fingerprint plaques for children at the festival, something that she saw the festival lacked when she revisited with her son, who was 4 years old at the time.
“I used to come up here to the festival when I was little. It was tradition that my mom would bring me and I had a plaque from when I was younger,” she said. “When I had my son, I started bringing him up here and the plaque booth was not here.”
It saddened her to see a tradition extinguished that she fondly remembered, so she took action and talked with the festival organizer to officially take over the plaque booth.
“When I told my mom I wanted to do it, she pulled out my little plaque from 1977 I had made when I was younger,” she said, smiling. “It had my little fingerprint on it and I didn’t know she had kept it. So I knew I had to do it then.”
So has since created more than 10,000 plaques. And the numbers keep growing every year. She said last year alone, she sold more than 2,000 plaques at $1 each. But she doesn’t pocket the money. Every dollar she earns through the plaques she donates back to the Allen County Museum.
This year marks the festival’s 40th annual anniversary. And while Solomon’s plaque-making is a hit, the festival also has more than 85 Christmas trees decorated by various local people and organizations.
“It’s fantastic. How often do you find a community festival that’s been around for 40 years? So it’s pretty unique in that sense,” said Pat Smith, director of the Allen County Museum. “There was a lady by the name of Helen Mack that started this in 1972 and I think that if she were still alive today, she would really think this is fantastic because it was her vision to create a community-based event that was free and open to anybody.”
And many people, like Shana Matchett, of Lima, enjoy the festival. Matchett, her 2-year-old son, Eli, and her mother were walking around on Wednesday for their first year of attending the festival.
“We are taking a tour of all the trees while we’re here — they’re just beautiful,” she said. “We do plan on putting in our ballot to vote for the best tree. We came to listen to the music and enjoy the festivities."
Every visitor is allowed to vote for the most beautifully decorated tree. There was also a piano player for entertainment, the tradition of taking a picture inside the wreath, plus various boutiques, like the holiday boutique and Gifts From the Earth.
Something new this year are the quilters, Smith said. She said they’re constructing a quilt so that people can see the process of quilting and enjoy it. But something that has been around for decades is Evergreen, the talking tree.
The theme for the year is “40 years of Christmas Traditions.” Most of the exhibits spend months prepping for the festival, as Solomon does.
“It is very time consuming, so every single year I question if I’m going to do it again,” she said. “But the kids are the reason I do it. It’s so rewarding for me.”
She said she starts the process in January, by pouring the plaques and her aunt cuts all the ribbon for her. Over the summer, she finishes the ribbon.
“I feel like I get to use the talent that God gave me because I’m very creative and I’m very artistic,” she said. “So I use it to glorify Him. I also enjoy people that come back and tell me their stories and are bringing their kids and their grandkids.”
The festival continues from 10 a.m.to 5 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. On Friday, it’s open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., featuring Ann Miller reading “The Polar Express” to children at 6 and 7 p.m.
On Sunday, she will also be reading the book at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. Children are invited to come in their pajamas and listen to the story.