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Baubles, bells and giving back: Primary Children’s Hospital’s 53rd Festival of Trees begins

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Afu Fiefia, right, hugs Becky Yamasaki, Festival of Trees executive board member, who decorated a tree in honor of Fiefia at the 53rd annual Festival of Trees to benefit Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital patients, at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. Fiefia, 17, was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in 2021 and has been in remission for eight months.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Classic Christmas music about sleigh bells and Santa fills Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy as lights and baubles shine on over 500 Christmas trees decked out in Barbies, rainbows, military branch flags, Lamborghinis and more.

The smell of fudge weaves through rows of intricate quilts with nativity scenes, BYU Cougars and Utah Utes football, classic cartoons and Christmas trees.

Primary Children's Hospital is hosting its 53rd Festival of Trees, open Tuesday through Saturday. The sparkling trees, colorful quilts and ornate gingerbread houses, most made in honor of loved ones living or deceased, will be sold or auctioned off in an effort to raise money for the hospital.

Janet DeWolfe, executive director of Intermountain Foundation at Primary Children's Hospital, said the trees can go for hundreds to thousands of dollars.

One golden display has been put up for Afu Fiefia and his family. Afu, an 11th grader, is eight months into his second round of remission from a rare bone and soft tissue cancer called Ewing sarcoma — a cancer with a low survivability rate and a high return rate.

Afu, an athlete, was 14 years old when he began feeling pain in his leg that wouldn't go away. His parents scheduled an MRI for him, where the cancer was discovered, and he was whisked into 23 total rounds of chemotherapy and 41 rounds of radiation.

"At first, I wondered why this was happening to me, but as I saw how my family and other people reacted, I thought, 'Maybe it's to bring people closer together, to strengthen my faith, and to deepen our family bond,'" Afu said.

Afu's tree was decorated by Festival of Trees executive board member Becky Yamasaki, who Afu's parents praised for her personal touch to the tree and how well she captured Afu's personality. The display featured art of Jesus Christ, a framed nativity scene and red and gold ornaments over a frosted tree.

Afu Fiefia, right, watches Becky Yamasaki, Festival of Trees executive board member, put finishing touches on a tree decorated in honor of Fiefia at the 53rd annual Festival of Trees to benefit Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital patients, at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy on Monday. Fiefia, 17, was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in 2021 and has been in remission for eight months.

Afu Fiefia, right, watches Becky Yamasaki, Festival of Trees executive board member, put finishing touches on a tree decorated in honor of Fiefia at the 53rd annual Festival of Trees to benefit Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital patients, at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy on Monday. Fiefia, 17, was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in 2021 and has been in remission for eight months.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Sam Clawson, whose family has been donating trees to the festival for over 10 years, decorated a sparkling tree with pink baubles, ribbon and flowers. Her pink tree was decorated in honor of her grandma, who died last fall.

"We do a tree every year for someone that we love that has been lost, or just to do a fun thing," Clawson said.

She said her family has been working on the tree for about a month and a half, getting their ideas from Pinterest.

Alexandria Gurney was found decorating a "Nightmare Before Christmas"-themed tree, framed around the Jack Skellington quote, "Just because I cannot see it, doesn't mean I can't believe it."

This is Gurney's fourth year donating a tree, which she begins planning shortly after the previous year's tree has been donated.

"I just think it's a great way to get involved in the community while still bringing that positivity that the Christmas season brings, and raising awareness for Primary Children's — which I think is awesome," Gurney said.

Tickets for the Festival of Trees can be purchased at the Mountain America Expo Center during the event or online at FestivalofTreesUtah.org.

A silent auction will be held on the same website for trees and wreaths, from 6 p.m. Tuesday through 9 p.m. Wednesday. Quilts and seasonal items can be purchased online.