Treasure Valley traditions make the season special

A crowd gathers to witness the lighting of Idaho’s Capitol Christmas Tree last year. This year’s state tree lighting is Nov. 23.
A crowd gathers to witness the lighting of Idaho’s Capitol Christmas Tree last year. This year’s state tree lighting is Nov. 23. Idaho Statesman file

You gotta love Christmas. Especially the Christmas traditions right here in the Treasure Valley.

It’s hard to beat listening to more than five dozen tuba players perform Christmas carols in the Capitol rotunda. Or what about the Night Light Parade in Caldwell? More than 30,000 people showed up for last year’s parade.

For some families, it’s not Christmas season until they go to the Idaho Botanical Garden’s Winter Garden aGlow. The gardens are decorated with more than 300,000 colored lights in myriad displays. (Who counts them all anyway?) It’s fun to go as a family and pick your favorites. There are even G-scale replicas of steam and diesel trains in the English Garden. How cool is that?

For other families, the season starts with the Saint Alphonsus Festival of Trees. It takes all the ambience of Christmas delights and combines it with a sense of giving that makes a significant impact on the community.

Since 1984, the festival has raised millions of dollars to help benefit community health care. Each year, the event raises money for different aspects of Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. That first year, which featured only 14 trees, the event raised $14,000 for the Saint Alphonsus Eye Institute. This year’s main recipient will be the Rehabilitation Center, including a program often referred to as “Easy Street.” Rehabilitation is something any one of us could need at any time in our life, whether it is recovery or reintegration from an injury, stroke, disability or a general illness.

And while the beneficiary sets the stage for the giving aspect of the festival, there is something else that makes this event such a special time.

“I think it’s the tradition,” said Boisean Char Smith, who co-chairs this year’s festival along with her husband, Bruce.

“It makes you think about family,” Bruce said — your own family, and the family of community. It makes one thankful for many things, and it is appropriate the festival is a Christmas celebration that takes place during the week of Thanksgiving, he said.

Not only is it important to have a faith-based event like this, Char said, but there is also something delightful about watching the Boise Centre “transform from a blank slate into a Christmas fairyland.”

“All of a sudden, 80 different families and groups show up to decorate their trees,” Bruce said. “It’s like 80 families gathering around together to have fun.”

“It’s just inspiring,” Char said.

“Some of the most poignant and most beautiful trees are done by kids,” Bruce said. “Quite frankly, I love those trees.” He also admires the children’s handmade Christmas cards and considers them something not to be missed.

But there are many other appealing aspects to the Festival of Trees. It’s not just the decorated trees. There is live entertainment throughout the week, along with a Family Day, a Senior Day and Tea, a kids’ scavenger hunt, a craft corner, a fashion show, an Iron Designer competition, a kick-off black-tie gala, a custom jewelry raffle prize and, of course, the Jolly Old Elf himself.

“It’s so fun,” said Char, who has “a blast” every year meeting all kinds of people while helping fulfill the needs of Saint Alphonsus, where she has volunteered her time with the foundation for several years.

While chairing the event is no easy task, she is quick to credit the executive committee for the festival’s success over the years.

“Some of them have been doing this for 25 years,” she said. “To me, they’re the heroes.”

There are other heroes around the Valley, too.

This is now the 23rd year for the Canyon County Festival of Trees, also happening Thanksgiving weekend. Now in its second year at the Ford Idaho Center, this festival raises money for the Canyon County Meals on Wheels program. Last year, more than $88,000 was raised. This Festival also has a fashion show, the Gala Dinner & Auction and you can take your kids to Breakfast With Santa.

This time of year is also a good time to support The Idaho Foodbank. One of its seasonal events happens the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 27) on The Grove Plaza. Buy a one-of-a-kind handcrafted soup bowl and try some of our city’s yummy, warm soups.

Boise has its own Holiday Parade, and it’s a Saturday morning affair the weekend before Thanksgiving. It makes a good family warm-up for the season.

The Christmas tree on the Capitol steps is also a wondrous feast for the eyes, and those lights come on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, in time for all the other fun stuff.

Santa makes the rounds, too, and you’ll find several opportunities to whisper your wishes in his ear. Meanwhile, if all the locally owned stores and unique restaurants in Downtown Boise are still a secret to you, what better way to change that than the city’s gift to you of free all-day parking the Saturday before Christmas?

There are so many ways to experience the season’s traditions in the Treasure Valley — and contribute to many good causes. If you’ve been missing out on some of these, why not start your own family tradition this year by trying something new or taking a new friend to one of your favorite events? Tis’ (almost) the season, you know.

Dusty Parnell is a freelance print, radio and video journalist who has worked in the Treasure Valley for more than 25 years.

The Festivals of Trees and Winter Garden aGlow

Saint Alphonsus Festival of Trees

Nov. 25-29 at the Boise Centre

Tuesday, Nov. 24: 5:30 p.m., Gala, $250, $2,500/table of 10; black-tie event, reservations required

Wednesday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Senior Day ($2 for seniors 62 and up) with a Senior Tea (1-4 p.m.), and the Iron Designer event (4:30-6 p.m.)

Thanksgiving: 2-9 p.m.

Friday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; the popular Fables & Fantasies, noon and 2 p.m.

Saturday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Family Day (bring a toy donation for $1 off adult admission); there will also be carnival games, sponsored by the Girl Scouts of Silver Sage

Sunday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; the popular Fables & Fantasies, 1 and 3 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 30: 11 a.m., Fashion Show & Luncheon, premiere/$75/$750 table of 10, general/$50/$500/table of 10; reservations required

Admission is $7 for adults, children ages 3-12 are $4, and seniors (62 or better) are $4, 2 and under are free; family passes are $30 (up to 6 individuals). Santa will be there every day, and there will be entertainment by local dance groups, choirs and musicians throughout the week. There are several special events during the festival, so check the website for a complete schedule.

For reservations of special events call 367-TREE or go to

23nd annual Canyon County Festival of Trees

Nov. 27-30 at the Ford Idaho Center

Friday: 1-7 p.m.; 3-7 p.m., Pictures with Santa

Saturday: 9 a.m., Breakfast with Santa, $8/kids, $10/adults, $30/family of 4 (2 adults, 2 kids), reservations required

Saturday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; noon-4 p.m., Pictures with Santa

Saturday: 6 p.m., Women’s Sip and Shop and Holiday Fashion Show, $25, must be 18 and older, reservations required

Sunday: 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; noon-4 p.m., Pictures with Santa

Monday, Nov. 30: 5:30 p.m., Gala Dinner & Auction, $80, $640/table of 8, reservations required

Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children, $3 for seniors (62 or better), $12 for a family up to 6, groups of 10 or more/$2 each. Santa will be there every afternoon, and there will be live entertainment, a silent auction, kids holiday crafts and a holiday bazaar.

The event benefits Canyon County Meals on Wheels. About $88,000 was raised last year. The event has raised more than $600,000 for the program over the years.

Call 208-250-4019 for information; for reservations of special events, visit

Idaho Botanical Garden 19th annual Winter Garden aGlow

Thanksgiving-Jan. 3 from 6 to 9:30 p.m., last admissions at 8:45 p.m.

Open rain, shine or snow. Garden aGlow is open for all holidays. Note that the event will be closed on Tuesday, Dec. 1, for a private party.

Santa will be on hand every weekend in December leading up to Christmas — Fridays-Mondays — and sometimes he might be joined by Prancer. Santa visits are free with admission; professional photos are available. There will also be plenty of live music and holiday treats, as well as the Holiday Express G-scale replicas of steam and diesel trains in the English Garden through December and, of course, the Holiday Garden Gift Store. Holiday parties are available for businesses or groups for those who wish to rent a tent or the greenhouse for private parties. Bring your own refreshments or hire a caterer. Call for information.

Sunday-Thursday admission is $8 for adults, $4 for kids ages 5-12 (4 and under free) and $4 for garden members.

Friday-Saturday admission is $10 for adults, $6 for kids ages 5-12 (4 and under free) and $6 for garden members.

Monday Family Pack: $25 for up to 6 people

Military discount: $1 off (with valid ID)

Tickets available at the gate or can be purchased in advance at the garden office or online. For information, call 343-8649 or go to

Some more popular seasonal events

SATURDAY, NOV. 14: 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Scouting for Food is the Treasure Valley’s second-largest annual food drive, thanks to help from the Boy Scouts. Scouts will distribute bags throughout the community Nov. 2. Then on Nov. 14, leave bags of canned food outside your door or take them to one of many drop-off locations in the Valley. Check The Idaho Foodbank website locations:

SATURDAY, NOV. 20: Pre-game, 8th annual Hunger Bowl at the Boise State vs. Air Force football game. Bring any nonperishable food item to the game and drop it off at one of the many Idaho Foodbank donation locations.

SATURDAY, NOV. 21: 9:45 a.m., annual Boise Holiday Parade in Downtown Boise. This year’s theme is “Christmas ... Through a Child’s Eyes,” and children from the community will ride the Boise Tour Train, serving as the grand marshals. Groups who would like to have two children represent their organization on the train are invited to contact Check the website for the route:

MONDAY, NOV. 23: The Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the Capitol steps. More details TBA.

THURSDAY, NOV. 26: The annual Soroptimist gift lists run in the Idaho Statesman. Help a local child or senior citizen by fulfilling their gift wishes. Soroptimist International of Boise partners with the Idaho Statesman, local care centers, senior-citizen homes and foster-children’s programs to present the gift lists. Learn more about the Soroptimists at

FRIDAY, NOV. 27: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Idaho Foodbank Empty Bowls on The Grove Plaza; buy a handcrafted bowl and some tasty soup prepared by local restaurants.

SATURDAY, NOV. 28: All day, Small Business Saturday in Downtown Boise. Kick off your holiday shopping season by supporting local small businesses. More than 140 local businesses and restaurants participated last year. Watch for more details on the Christmas in the City page of the Downtown Boise Association website:

SATURDAY, NOV. 28: 5-7 p.m., The Downtown Boise Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony. Following the ceremony, bring your candleholder to the Festival of Trees for $1 off adult admission. And don’t forget the Giving Tree on the Grove Plaza, which benefits the Women’s and Children’s Alliance.

FIRST THURSDAY and SATURDAYS in DECEMBER: City Santa will be at the DL Evans Bank at the corner of 9th and Main streets on the First Thursday in December, as well as the three December Saturdays before Christmas. Watch for more details on the Christmas in the City page of the Downtown Boise Association website. Also, in December, the Winter Window Gallery Stroll kicks off on First Thursday. Downtown storefront windows will be painted with delightful artwork, and voting for your favorites will continue for a couple of weeks. Watch for more details on the DBA’s Christmas in the City page.

SATURDAY, DEC. 5: 4 p.m., Boise TubaChristmas in the State Capitol rotunda. Last year there were about 65 participants ranging in age from 10 to 75.

SATURDAY, DEC. 5: 6 p.m., Treasure Valley Night Light Parade, Christmas Through the Decades, Blaine Street, Caldwell. Sponsored by the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce on the first Saturday of December, it is a popular event.

FRIDAY, DEC. 11: 7 p.m., The Ambrose School Traditional Christmas Program “The Song of Christmas” at the Morrison Center. The program features a choir, chimes and full orchestra with a 250-voice finale of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” The Ambrose School is a K-12 classical Christian school in Meridian with more than 500 students. $15-$25 at Ticketmaster. 323-3888 or

SATURDAY, DEC. 19: 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Free Parking Day in Downtown Boise in all parking garages and all metered spaces. Watch for more details on the Christmas in the City page of the Downtown Boise Association website. Some private lots may also participate.

SUNDAY-MONDAY, DEC. 20-21: 10th annual Xtreme Holiday Xtravaganza at the Egyptian Theatre, with host Curtis Stigers and benefiting the Interfaith Sanctuary. Tickets will be available on Dec. 1 at In honor of the 10th anniversary, organizers are planning some special festivities. Note that there are two nights only this year.