CLEARWATER — This year's 27th annual Festival of Trees is christened "A Family Christmas," and who better to officiate the event than the First Family of the funny papers, Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead.
The comic couple — around since 1930, but still as youthful as ever — is set to appear at the festival when Santa arrives Saturday at 10 a.m. They'll make other random appearances too — that is, when Dagwood isn't busy gobbling tall sandwiches, snoozing on the sofa, or helping Blondie with the household chores.
The Yule-feel-good fest runs through Sunday at Clearwater's Long Center, where the UPARC Foundation is headquartered. Proceeds from UPARC's signature event benefit the foundation, which supports 22 group homes and other services for the developmentally disabled.
Put on your dancing shoes tonight and head for the inaugural Jingle Bell Jam, where you can go rockin' around the Christmas trees from 7 to 11 p.m. In addition to live music, enjoy food, libations and plenty of fun. Tickets are $30 each and available at the door.
The festival features the sale of more than 100 trees, wreaths and ornaments decorated by imaginative artists, businesses and community leaders. You'll see a variety of themes including patriotic, Mardi Gras, Old Florida, sports, world peace, elegance and much more.
On Wednesday, Chris Daily was busy decorating UPARC's tree with about 100 sterling and brass bells in memory of her mother-in-law, who had collected some 800 over the years.
Several decorators paid tribute to the Bumsteads and other comic characters.
Look for a 7-foot inverted white tree with cocktail glasses as ornaments. It's called, "Hey, Mr. Bumstead, how about a Vesper Martini?"
Another tree, titled "I saw Blondie kissing Santa Claus," is adorned with red plastic lips and Santa hats.
A "Comic Book Christmas," bursting with superhero figurines, will delight Marvel Comics fans, be they young or old.
Local resident Dean Young, son of Blondie originator Chic Young and the strip's current creator, served on the panel of judges for this year's event.
He created special Blondie and Dagwood artwork for this year's publicity, so bring your camera for some Blondie moments. A holiday backdrop will feature life-size cutouts of the cartoon characters. And Santa will sit among a sea of giant presents tagged for Blondie and the gang.
Don't miss the adorable red and white Santa and Mrs. Claus near the Santa photo area. Their bodies are made from 4-foot trees embellished with lights and ornaments. She's all sweets and he's all toys. He appears to have permed his curly white beard, but that's not the case, said Nancy Bennett, one of the decorators.
"I found an old man Halloween mask with all this long, crazy white hair," she said. Santa and his Mrs. will be sold as a pair — as will several sets of wreaths.
Dowell Bates, who serves on the tree committee, said customers have said in the past that they'd like to buy wreaths but need two for double doors. So this year, identical wreaths are on tap. Even a set of white doors — decorated with snowmen fashioned from wreaths — will be for sale.
Vendors will be situated amongst the woodlands selling handcrafted and specialty items for holiday gift giving. That includes some artwork created by UPARC clients from the Harborside Studios in Safety Harbor.
Plenty of entertainment by local choral and dance groups will take place throughout each day.
A 2012 Vespa scooter will be raffled Sunday evening between 5 and 6 p.m. Tickets for the drawing are $50 apiece.
"This year it's a real hometown celebration," said Molly duPont Schaffer, co-chair of the event. "We've got our local artist Dean Young and Blondie and Dagwood to help kick off the holiday season."
Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at email@example.com