How the Festival of Trees embodies hope and healing for a domestic violence survivor

Nov 30, 2023, 12:00 PM | Updated: 10:17 pm

Festival of Trees Tamra Rachol...

Tamra Rachol stands in front of her tree, Hope in 2020. (Tamra Rachol)

(Tamra Rachol)

SANDY, Utah — For decades, the Festival of Trees has been a Utah holiday tradition. The event is a fundraiser for Primary Children’s Hospital.

Tamra Rachol, a survivor of domestic violence, sees the festival as a space to shed light on topics that are often left behind closed doors and to provide hope for others. 

Creating hope at the Festival of Trees 

Rachol entered her first Festival of Trees in 2020. However, instead of creating a tree in traditional red and green, her tree donned purple and silver. Her goal was to shed light on domestic violence.

She, along with her partner in crime, Kimberly Meier, created a tree for the Festival of Trees. They named it Hope.

“As a survivor of domestic violence, I can tell you, it does not discriminate,” she said of the creation that year. “However, there is hope and help for restoration and healing. Let this tree represent that hope for those who are struggling in silence and the survivors who are still healing.”

Connecting with community

Rachol said she was shocked by how many people were in an abusive relationship or knew someone who was.

“I would have several people come over and ask me what the theme was or why [the tree] was purple. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming to hear their responses,” said Rachol. “Every single one of them that talked to me had known someone in an abusive relationship. And the gratitude that they had for just being willing to spread that awareness; not hide it behind closed doors where it’s just another dirty word that we don’t talk about.”

 She said she wanted to “express love and hope for others.”

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “There are different lives that can be had.”

Thinking happy thoughts

Rachol and Meier decided to switch gears. The pair created a Peter Pan-themed tree for 2022. Rachol is doing it again this year. 

“The name of the tree is ‘Think Happy Thoughts’,” said Rachol. “The idea behind it is mental health awareness. And again, talking about things that are uncomfortable that we tend to keep behind closed doors. And encouraging parents to talk to their children about how they’re really doing, and encouraging parents to check in on themselves.”

One element Rachol is sure to always include is information on the SafeUT app.

“With our Peter Pan tree,  just in case the message is ever missed, I make sure to put a Safe Utah flyer in front of it with a QR code for the app,” said Rachol. “So, anybody walking by… that is maybe struggling with something on that flyer — anxiety, depression or harmful thoughts — they have that right there.”

Last year’s tree brought in a $6,000 donation. This year, Rachol ended up creating the tree solo as her usual creative partner is recovering from heart surgery. 

The “Think Happy Thoughts” tree is complete with Skull Rock, Big Ben, Tinker Bell in a lantern, and a pirate’s treasure chest. 

Creativity and chaos

Rachol said there is a wonderful community created within the Festival of Trees. The festival attracts teams of friends and families of all ages. 

On Nov. 28, the trees were prepped at the Mountain America Expo Center. Rachol said it’s “insanely chaotic” but is probably her favorite day of the year.  

“The atmosphere is nothing but kindness and love. And everybody’s willing to help one another. They have two gentlemen that are called the tree doctors,” said Rachol. “They basically have anything you could need on their persons. And so if you run into a snag, you just ask the volunteers where they’re at, they’ll point you in the right direction, and somebody’s going to help you get it taken care of and volunteers are always so sweet.”

The festival is currently taking place at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy through Saturday.

If you or someone you know is experiencing trouble linked to domestic violence, the following resources are available.

Utah Domestic Violence LINKLine
1-800-897-LINK (5465)
If LINKLine advocates experience an increased call volume, they will forward calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

StrongHearts Native Helpline

Related reading: Since new law began, domestic violence referrals spike 83%

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How the Festival of Trees embodies hope and healing for a domestic violence survivor