Festive, friendly, competition

Morven Museum and Garden Festival of Trees

The historic Morven Museum and Garden has opened its doors, once again, this holiday season to celebrate the 16th year of their annual “Festival of Trees.”

The beloved museum of Princeton, New Jersey, takes pride in the annual event’s ability to bring families and friends together for the celebration of both, its special exhibitions and artistic, festive displays for the holidays.

The 250-year-old Morven building, previously home to five New Jersey governors and one signer of the Declaration of Independence, first opened its doors as a public museum in 2004. Since then, the historic landmark has become a staple on surrounding communities’ places-to-visit lists, providing a variety of exhibitions, educational programs and special events–such as the Festival of Trees.

Each year, Morven partners with various community groups, such as local garden clubs or other nonprofits, who decorate and display a tree or mantel of their choice for the festival.

This year, attendees can look forward to a Cocker-Spaniel-themed tree, courtesy of the Cocker Spaniel Club, alongside a variety of other holiday displays, with themes ranging from the Chinese New Year to winter wonderland.

According to Morven Museum and Garden Executive Director, Jill Barry, the festival provides an opportunity for light-hearted, holiday competition between the event’s yearly tree decorators, such as the West Trenton Garden Club, and those who are new to the event, joining as first-time decorators.

“The trees are always different year after year, and so the excitement of being able to be part of this legacy—it’s really our gift back to the community. These decorating groups work so hard on their displays, and the displays are really beautiful,” Barry said. “They really, especially this year, they did a really great job…So, it’s a moment for families to be together to see these things and really appreciate just the city.”

The festival is split between the first and second floor of the museum, with three trees placed on the building’s second level in correlation with the floor’s special exhibit of “The Nature’s Realm: The Art of Gerard Rutgers Hardenbergh.”

The exhibit displays the work of the self-taught artist and descendant of Reverend Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, the first president of Queens College, now Rutgers University, featuring various paintings and much of his commercial work, “including designs for porcelain, chromolithographs and his unique games.” In celebration of his life as an ornithologist and naturalist, the festival’s coinciding trees feature feathers, fishing lures and other unique décor details.

“You can come in and see the trees in half an hour or really come and spend a couple of hours in the museum also enjoying both, the special exhibition about Hardenbergh and the history of the site,” Barry said. “It’s really just a lot of creativity on view, which is, you know—being a museum—one thing we really want to celebrate.”

In an effort to engage visitors to the museum and acknowledge the dedication of the festival’s decorators, community members are able to vote for their favorite tree or mantel display in person, with the ballot provided at the end of the tour, or online.

“You don’t really win anything other than bragging rights, but it is always a friendly competition,” Barry said. “And it is our highest attended period of the year, which is fun. Lots of families come year after year, and it’s just part of their holiday experience.”

In alignment with COVID-19 safety precautions, Morven currently offers timed tickets to the festival, available through online purchase, limiting the number of individuals inside the museum during a given period of time. It is also required that masks be worn by those visiting the museum.

The festival is open during the museum’s usual hours of operation, Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will remain open to the community until Sunday, Jan. 9.

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