Out on a limb

andy-covered lollipops, cupcakes and glittery snowflakes playfully overwhelm the pine tree.

Playing cards studded different branches. Kazoos, rubber ducks and giant gingerbread men stick out around the lights and sparkling garland. Sock monkeys clutch each other while perched on the trees’ top branches.

The tree looks like a toy store come to life. That was the point, said Debi Pierson, owner of Toodleydoo Toys in Franklin.

“We wanted to do something that was playful and engaging and not just a pretty tree. We went with the ‘I Spy’ theme because it’s something people can do besides just look at the tree,” she said. “It’s so colorful and really happy to look at it.”

Toodleydoo and other Johnson County businesses have put their own individual touch on the holidays, decorating trees for the annual Festival of Trees at the Indiana History Center. Organizations, families and businesses were invited by the Indianapolis-based organization to personalize their own fir tree with the colors and symbols that best represent them.

From a toy-filled “I Spy” game to a tree using old motorcycle parts and Harley-Davidson memorabilia, local participants let their holiday spirit show through creativity.

“You never know how a design will take off,” said Tom Borman, event director for the Indiana Historical Society. “It might play off a certain color, or the theme of a business, or something someone is passionate about. That’s the fun of it.”

The Festival of Trees is a new event designed to showcase some of Indiana’s distinctive groups, places and industries. Each group pledged to sponsor a tree, and was provided a fully lit one to decorate it in a way that best represented them.

Visitors to the center can vote on the tree they like best.

After 25 trees were featured the first year, participation has doubled in 2015, Borman said. Visitor engagement is also strong; more than 9,000 votes were cast for tree last year, and already about 5,000 have come in, with three weeks left in the display.

“It has generated a lot of interest,” Borman said. “Not only does the Festival of Trees provide another attraction for families downtown, but it gives people an opportunity to see the other offerings if they’ve never been to the Indiana History Center.”

To celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial next year, a tree was adorned with ornaments featuring some of the state’s most notable features, from the West Baden Hotel to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The speedway itself has its own tree decked out with black-and-white ribbon, and ornaments showing some of the most memorable events from the Indianapolis 500.

A tree made entirely out of books, with paper cut-out stars on top, is the submission of the historical book publisher IHS Press.

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Butler University and the Indiana Historical Society all have featured trees.

Ray Skillman Ford, the Greenwood-based car dealership, themed its tree “Hoosier Cruisin’.” Ornaments made from antique cars, all loaded with gifts for the holidays, plays off the nostalgic tradition of driving around as a family to see Christmas lights.

Southside Harley-Davidson created an entire tableau, with a lifesize Santa Claus riding an antique motorcycle with presents and a tree in the sidecar.

A replica of the factory where Harley-Davidson motorcycles were first built in 1903 stands next to it. Finally, a tree featuring antique motorcycle parts, Harley-themed ornaments and popcorn strands completes the scene.

At the top of the tree, a star is shaped out of an old motorcycle chain.

The Marshmallow Monkey asked its customers to help it come up with a theme for their tree.

Riffing off the theme at the end of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” owners Brandon and Nicole Nicoloff thought about getting at the true spirit of the holiday season.

During its holiday open house, the downtown Franklin home decor, vintage and flower store had people submit their thoughts about the true meaning of Christmas.

“What we looked for was how Christmas can be something more than you can buy in a store,” Nicole Nicoloff said. “Every single person had a meaningful reason.”

Responses such as, “Community,” “My kids’ smiles and excitement” and putting “Christ back in Christmas” were then attached to the tree to serve as ornaments. The feedback was overwhelming, Brandon Nicoloff said.

Silver heart ornaments, fake snow, white lights and green glittery branches jutting from the top add to the Grinch-y look.

“The theme of our store is ‘the unexpected.’ So people wondered that we were doing a Grinch tree, but we took that idea and kind of shook it up,” Nicole Nicoloff said. “We tried to get the arbitrary idea out there, and you can see that every single person got into it.”

Oaken Barrel Brewing Co. was asked to provide its beers to the Festival of Trees opening party, as well as to feature a tree in this year’s show.

The Greenwood brewery submitted its “Epiphany Tree,” decorated with purple and gold ornaments accented with Oaken Barrel bottles. At the crown of the tree is its Epiphany abbey-style tripel ale, a special release for the holidays.

“It’s a beer tree,” said Kwang Casey, owner of Oaken Barrel. “It turned out really neat, and it was a great exposure for us.”

Local businesses who took part in the event hope to make their designs a holiday tradition in the coming years.

The Marshmallow Monkey plans to take the idea for their “More than Just a Store” and regularly have customers share what the season means to them.

Pierson designed Toodleydoo’s tree to come with a list of items to try and spot while enjoying the tree. That concept will work well for customers who come to the shop to do their Christmas shopping next year.

“We think we’ll put it up next year in the store next year, with the same kind of idea. I think that’ll be a great addition every year,” Pierson said.

If you go

Festival of Trees

What: A display of 50 trees decorated by central Indiana businesses, organizations and individuals, put together by the Indiana Historical Society.

Where: Indiana History Center, 450 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 2. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 22. Closed Dec. 24, 25 and 31, and Jan. 1.

Cost: Included with admission to the history center; $7 for adults, $6.50 for seniors 60 and older, $5 for children ages 5 to 17, and free to children under five.

Participating southside groups:

  • Toodleydoo Toys, Franklin
  • The Marshmallow Monkey, Franklin
  • Oaken Barrel Brewing Co., Greenwood
  • Ray Skillman Ford, Greenwood
  • Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson, Indianapolis

Information: indianahistory.org

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.