It's so simple
We turned our Christmas spirit up a notch yesterday with a visit to the Providence Festival of Trees, which runs through tomorrow down at the Oregon Convention Center. I'm not a big fan of the Convention Center, and yesterday it did its best to bring out the grinch in me, but it failed. The festival was great cheap fun ($10 total admission for two adults, one child, and an infant -- with a coupon that you can print out here), and the miserable parking situation and bad traffic that accompany it ($6 to park a couple of blocks away) were relatively easy to brush off. (Of course, there's Max, but in a hard rain with two kids, that wasn't a realistic option.)
The festival is basically one of those huge convention center exhibit halls, turned over to displays of decorated Christmas trees. Each brightly lit tree follows a theme, and the booth surrounding it is filled with items, most of them gifts, dedicated to the same theme. Although this may feed our unhealthy obsession with material goods, at least there's very little advertising in evidence beyond the trees and goods themselves. Off to the sides, other activities are going on. For instance, there are some crafts items for sale -- Christmas stockings that light up were intriguing. But the stars of the show are the trees themselves. They're all good, and a few are stunningly beautiful.
The event is a benefit for Providence Foundations, the charitable wing of the health services giant that runs several hospitals in Portland. Patrons actually "buy" the tree displays, so that more of the proceeds of the event go to benefit the charity.
In addition to the trees, there is an awesome group of toy train sets running through elaborate landscapes made out of small Legos. The set that represents the Convention Center with a Max train running around it is so clever that it alone justifies the trip. There's a neat collection of gingerbread houses, too. My three-year-old daughter and I got a surprisingly strong kick out of identifying the food items that the houses were built out of. Who ever heard of a house with Froot Loops on the roof?
If they're willing to wait in lines, which were moderate on Friday morning, the kids can also visit with Santa, and get their faces painted. And anyone can walk up and immediately play with Legos, order up a custom-made magic wand, or sit and watch any number of family acts on a big stage. We caught a pretty decent juggler, and a few holiday songs by a nice high school glee club that I believe was from Parkrose. It was swell.
So captured was I by the spirit of this event that for a few hours I forgot my multi-level disdain for the Convention Center. My own little Scrooge-Morning-After Moment -- thanks, Providence.
Then we walked over to the nearby Burgerville, my favorite place in town to eat lunch, and had nice burgers (turkey burgers for the mom and dad) and the show-stopping seasonal sweet potato fries. All the regular helpers were on duty; many of them have waited on me in that place for years. I thought about how this was where we ate lunch (one eye on CNN on the TV monitor in the corner) on 9/11/01. Today we felt very at home, in a fast food joint, no less.
As long as I can remember, I have run myself ragged in search of the spirit of Christmas. It's possible to find it on an adults-only basis -- with the help of distilled spirits, I've done it a few times. But it's so obvious with children in the picture. It takes your breath away.