Dozens of holiday trees elaborately decorated by designers from across the valley are the mainstay of the annual Providence Festival of Trees. With themes that range from angels and football teams to old-fashioned Christmases and teddy bears, the trees are auctioned off to raise money for medical equipment for the Medford hospital. But the public is given a chance to view the fanciful creations before the new owners pick them up.

Dozens of holiday trees elaborately decorated by designers from across the valley are the mainstay of the annual Providence Festival of Trees. With themes that range from angels and football teams to old-fashioned Christmases and teddy bears, the trees are auctioned off to raise money for medical equipment for the Medford hospital. But the public is given a chance to view the fanciful creations before the new owners pick them up.

The holiday trees, as well as tabletop trees and wreaths, were sold during an invitation-only formal dinner and auction.

The public may view the trees from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 1-2, at the Medford Armory, 1701 S. Pacific Highway. Admission costs $5 for adults, $3 for seniors 60 and older and children under 12. Children 2 and under get in free.

"It's a project that continues to evolve," says Susan Toner, executive director of the Providence Community Health Foundation.

New this year are several fireplace mantels and door displays. They join 36 large decorated trees, 16 tabletop trees, about 40 mini trees, 35 wreaths and a "Polar Express" playhouse. Santa Claus will be there and for $5, visitors can have their photo taken with him. There will be musical entertainment, food concessions and a holiday store. Visits with Santa Claus will be available throughout the three-day event. The Festival of Trees has been a major fundraiser for the hospital. It brought in $580,000 last year, and has raised $4 million since it began in 1992.

The auction brings in most of the money, but funds also come from the modest admission charges. And a raffle raises thousands of dollars, Toner says. This year's prizes are the KRWQ Tree, an elegant table setting, a toy tree with a dollhouse, and the Entertainment Tree. Tickets cost $2 (or three for $5) with the drawing at 4 p.m. Sunday (need not be present to win).

Money raised this year will go toward the purchase of a da Vinci Robotic Surgical System, which will cost $1.6 million overall. It will be used initially for urology and gynecology patients, but may be expanded later to other specialties such as ear, nose and throat and cardiothoracic surgery.

A Festival of Trees brochure mentions that the da Vinci system is a "dramatic improvement over traditional laparoscopic techniques" and allows surgery to be performed through dime-sized incisions. The result for patients is "less invasive surgery, shorter recovery time, less pain and blood loss, fewer infections and complications, and reduced hospital costs."

Cleve Twitchell is a retired Mail Tribune editor and columnist. E-mail him at clevelinda@msn.com.