Inspiring Christmas trees at Swanage festival

A dazzling display of decorated trees is delighting visitors to the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Swanage for the annual Purbeck Christmas Tree Festival – which just keeps on growing.

The festival, which began life in 2011 at St James’s Church in nearby Kingston, now has 40 trees sponsored and decorated by Purbeck businesses, schools, clubs and charities, and an estimated two thousand visitors.

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Purbeck Christmas Tree Festival organisers. Left to right: Richard and Judy Forgan and Janet Norley

Perfect in a rural village setting

Now held annually at Emmanuel Baptist Church, the theme for the 2023 feelgood festive event is Christmas traditions and this year all sponsorship and proceeds will go to two nominated charities – Communicare and the National Coastwatch Institution.

Festival mastermind Judy Forgan said:

“The original festival in Kingston Church quickly got bigger and bigger each year until by 2014 we didn’t really have the space or manpower to carry on, so we looked for somewhere larger.

“I had seen a similar festival in Westbourne and thought it would be perfect in a rural village setting. We used it to raise money for the Julia’s House hospice, but the main reason for it was so that local businesses and charities could raise their profile by sponsoring a tree.”

The Knutty Knitters group knitted Christmas dinner to decorate the branches of their tree

Swanage Badminton Club made crackers out of shuttlecocks and added bad jokes: How do you get a baby astronaut to sleep? Rock it!

Knitted a Christmas dinner

Judy Forgan added:

“That has continued in our new home and every year we have new groups join us for the first time, like Swanage Carnival, alongside those who have supported right from the start like Suttles Purbeck Stone, whose dinosaur and diggers tree with its baskets of chocolates is always very popular!

“We have a different theme every year – the last festival was based around favourite Christmas songs, and this year it is Christmas traditions.

“For example, the Knutty Knitters have knitted all the elements of a Christmas dinner as ornaments, while Swanage Badminton Club has used shuttlecocks to make Christmas crackers!

“A lot of the decorations are hand made. There are many, many hours which have gone into making the trees look so splendid. Our local groups show so much creativity and innovation – it is amazing!”

Dressing up costume adds to the Nativity scene around the manger at Emmanuel Baptist Church

A heavenly host of angels was added to proceedings thanks to the Swanage Methodist Church

Be in the Nativity picture

The Purbeck Christmas Tree Festival is so named because so many people join in from the wider Purbeck community, with trees, singers and musicians from Worth Matravers, Wareham, Wool and beyond.

The festival programme of entertainment includes Harmony Rocks, the Zephyrae Wind Instrument trio, the Handbells Group, Singing For Pleasure choir, Karen G, the Belvedere Singers, the Ukuladies ukulele band, Drum Circle and the Allsort’d Singers.

Church volunteers provide food and drink for the visitors, and a new attraction for 2023 is a Nativity stable with a rack of fancy dress costumes so that people can dress up and put themselves in the picture.

Swanage Carnival displayed a tree at the festival for the first time

Suttles Purbeck Stone has been present since 2011 with their diggers and dinosaurs – and chocolate selections

“Smiled all the way through”

Organiser Janet Norley said:

“We are very grateful to everyone who takes part because without the singers, without the sponsors and without the people who create the wonderful tree ornaments it wouldn’t be such a perfect festival.

“We would like to thank all of our musicians and performers who give their time free to entertain us, and to Holme for Gardens in East Stoke, who give very generous discounts for the Christmas trees.

“We would also like to give a huge vote of thanks to all our wonderful volunteers at Emmanuel, who have created, designed, typed, printed, cooked, catered, welcomed everyone and smiled all the way through – without them, this lovely festival could not happen!”

There was a nautical theme from Coastwatch, one of this year’s chosen festival charities

Communicare, which will also benefit from funds raised in 2023, is appealing for extra volunteer drivers

Appeal for driver volunteers

All money raised will be split between Coastwatch, which helps prevent many tragedies along the Purbeck coast, and Swanage based Communicare, which provides transport for those who need hospital visits and, through Jenny Lazenby, is currently appealing for new driver volunteers to help the charity.

Many children who have taken part in creating trees for the festival have already been to the church to see their work displayed, including Explorers childcare group, who have been learning about Christmas traditions from around the world, including broomsticks, surfing and cobwebs!

St Mark’s School children were busy with craft materials to decorate their tree

Childcare group Swanage Explorers learned all about Christmas traditions from around the world

“Blessed to be part of the festival”

St Mark’s Primary School head teacher Rebecca Martin said:

“We are so blessed to be a part of the festival, the children all took part in making their own decorations which are as individual as our pupils.

“Then the day came to decorate the tree – we are sure you will agree it is so beautiful, and more so because it has been totally crafted and decorated by the children of St Mark’s themselves.”

Ribbons bedeck the tree of remembrance outside Emmanuel Baptist Church, Swanage

Gifts inside the church add to the cosy Christmas atmosphere

Lights of Love service

The Purbeck Christmas Tree Festival is open from 10 am to 6 pm until Saturday 9th December 2023, and while some will be taken down at the end of the day, there will still be trees in the church for the Lights of Love service at 4 pm on Sunday 10th December 2023.

This is a quiet, reflective service, led by Reverend David Norley, for people who have lost friends and family during the year, where people light candles and can add ribbons to the tree of remembrance outside the church.

There is also a Carols by Candlelight service at Emmanuel Baptist Church at 6.30 pm on Thursday 21st December 2023.

A pair of boots beneath the tree can only mean one things – the RNLI is in town

The Emmanuel Baptist Church Kids chose a striking colour palette for their Christmas tree this year

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