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It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

For Donna Patella, working hard at the Providence Festival of Trees each year is her way of celebrating Christmas — and helping local residents get the medical services they need.

The festival, which draws 20,000 visitors annually, is in its 20th year and has raised $6 million for Providence Medford Medical Center programs and services.

It opens to the public for viewing today and continues through Sunday at the Medford Armory. Three dozen full-size trees, 15 table-top trees, 20 mini trees and 20 wreaths comprise this year's festival, proceeds from which will benefit the Providence Spine Institute.

"It means so many things to so many people — the ones who do the trees, the ones who get the trees, the people who come see it — and it goes to a great cause," said Patella, a Medford event planner who has designed trees for the festival all 20 years and 10 years before that at a similar festival in Portland.

Patella said she began decorating trees a year after her mother passed away.

"This is my Christmas. I can't even imagine how I could go without it," she said, noting that the dozens of designers have become a sorority of sorts.

"We email and call each other during the year and we all get our ideas ready, and if we need something we'll put the word out. But most of us only see each other at Festival."

While camaraderie is high and competition is friendly, the tree designs could not be more varied. Themes range from sock moneys, golf and fishing gear to Hot Wheels, Disney characters, polar bears and birdhouses.

Patella's "Santa's Mad About Plaid" is decked out in various hues of plaid, while a golf-themed tree nearby is adorned with simple bows and purple ornaments, accenting a "roadster"-style car and golf clubs as part of a full scene.

A "Glee" tree features highlights of the movie, a DVD player, makeup station, microphone and director's chair.

"Fire and Ice," this year's Most Original for full-size trees, evokes equal parts warmth and cold with shades of red and orange, white and frosty blue.

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas," a full-size tree that garnered top honors with Best of Show this year, is an upside-down evergreen, seemingly falling inside a red Santa bag, held by a Grinch with an evil grin. A mantel is decked out with stockings, and toys are already in the Grinch's grasp.

Becky Fliegel, an employee at Dr. Bruce Logan's Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Center, said the tree was designed around the option of having an upside-down tree.

Logan has sponsored a tree for all 20 years of the festival. In years past, he hired designers to come up with a theme.

"We've hired a designer every year and last year we were like, 'Why don't we do it ourselves? We can do this.' So Dr. Logan said, 'Well, then, do it,' " Fliegel said.

"We really got into it. We weren't sure what to do at first, but we were sure we wanted it to be upside-down."

Heather Crow, Providence Medford Medical Center's public relations coordinator, said the themes each year never fail to delight and surprise.

"It's always fun to see what people come up with. This event kicks off Christmas for so many people," she said.

"Not only is it really important for our foundation, but it really comes with a lot of traditions."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffypollock@juno.com.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” won Best of Show in the annual Providence Festival of Trees, which opens to the public today at the Medford Armory. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore