A stroll through a forest of twinkling Christmas trees is a great way to get in the holiday spirit, even more so is the option to buy a tree to help the less fortunate. The second Festival of Trees, benefitting the Aiken Area Council on Aging, presents a silent auction of nearly 20 trees – plus wreaths, garland and nativities – each decorated with a unique theme of ornaments and gifts.


Area businesses and civic organizations have sponsored trees, and cadres of volunteer decorators have transformed the bare artificial firs into scenes dense with lights, ornaments and attention to detail. Many trees are decorations and presents rolled into one; their branches and skirts laden with hefty gift certificates and other surprises.


The Faith Explorers class of First Baptist Church has sponsored and decorated a shimmering tree called “Frost Fire,” swathed in ribbons of silver and white with bursts of scarlet poinsettias. Underneath this tree are four rounds of golf at Woodside, six sessions at NuLook Fitness Center, services at Cherry Bomb Spa and a golf shirt from Lionel Smith.


Longtime supporters of the AACOA as volunteers, and more recently with the Festival of Trees as sponsors and decorators, the Women of Woodside are once again contributing their time and an elaborate tree. Their theme this year, “Sweet Treats,” recalls childhood memories of Christmas with branches thick with sugared candies and gingerbread houses.


Sponsored by Aiken Regional Medical Centers, the Victorian tree by local needlecraft guilds has been a labor of love to decorate. Members of the Embroiderers Guild of America, the Isabella Birtwistle Sampler Guild and the American Needlepoint Guild have spent hours stitching and beading ornaments that show the breadth of the art of embroidery.


But the real beauty of this fundraiser is the help it provides the elderly of Aiken County. South Carolina has the second-highest rate of senior hunger in the nation, and AACOA is directly addressing this problem. The AACOA's Home Delivered Meal program delivers food to homebound seniors. For some people, this food is their only nourishment Monday through Friday, and they simply don't eat on the weekends.


For a decade, the AACOA went without a major fundraiser, and then, in 2010, state funding to the agency was cut. Now in its second year, the Festival of Trees is the AACOA's biggest fundraiser, and the money it brings in goes directly to the meal programs. Last year, the festival raised money to deliver 5,300 additional meals. But as food prices have increased, so, too, has the number of people on the waiting list.


The 4- and 6-foot trees, wreaths and other items are available for purchase through a silent auction that runs during the entire five-day festival at the Fermata Club, 841 Whiskey Road.


Hours are Nov. 21, 23 and 24 from noon to 6 p.m.; Nov. 22 from 2 to 6 p.m.; and Nov. 25 from noon to 3 p.m. Tickets are $13 for adults, $5 for children 13 and older and $3 for children 12 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at the door.


Special event tickets for Festival Unplugged and Breakfast with Santa must be purchased in advance at Barbara Sue Brodie NeedleWorks, the AACOA, Floyd & Green, Plum Pudding and Tea Garden Gifts.


The Festival Unplugged and the All Star Media Challenge will be held on Nov. 21; tickets are $45.


Breakfast with Santa and a photo with Santa will be held on Nov. 24. Tickets are $15 for teens and older; $10 for children ages 3 to 12 and free for children younger than 3.