Christmas trees bright, clever at Schenectady County Historical Society, YWCA

Some of the dozens of decorated Christmas trees on view in the Festival of Trees at the Schenectady County Historical Society and YWCA.

Some of the dozens of decorated Christmas trees on view in the Festival of Trees at the Schenectady County Historical Society and YWCA.

History and the holidays, whether it be Halloween or Christmas, always seem to make a good match when it comes to the Stockade neighborhood in Schenectady.

That’s a lesson the staff at the Schenectady County Historical Society has learned well for nearly two decades now, but for a while this holiday season, the group’s executive director, Mary Zawacki, wasn’t so sure.

The annual Festival of Trees event, held in conjunction with the YWCA of Schenectady throughout this month, didn’t seem to have that early energy it usually does. People — mostly businesses and non-profits — weren’t signing up to decorate a tree as they had in the past.

“The registration was coming in kind of slowly, and we were worried that maybe the people just weren’t interested anymore,” said Zawacki. “But it’s turned out to be as popular as it’s been in past years.”

Perhaps Zawacki need not have worried. The organization’s ghost tours — guided walks around the Stockade in October — were very well attended.

“Our October program this year doubled what it’s done in previous years,” she said. “You don’t know for sure with COVID how people are going to react, but it seemed people did want to get back out and find something to do. We’re hoping that trend continues for the Festival of Trees.”

The Festival of Trees has served as a fundraiser for the historical society and the YWCA since 2007 when the two neighbors on Washington Avenue joined forces to first put on the event. Groups decorate a tree and sponsor it to raise money, and then the two facilities charge $6 a person — free for children under 12 — to tour their facility and see dozens of trees adorned with Christmas lights and a variety or other ornaments. Visitors can purchase a ticket online or in person at the historical society.

Regular visitors of this event will be familiar with many of the trees.

“We have a Victorian tree from Ravena that’s been coming here for a long time, the Stockade Association always has a tree, and ESAM (Empire State Aerosciences Museum in Glenville) and Stewart’s have been long sponsors of trees here,” said Zawacki. “We also have a lot of our volunteers at the society who put up Christmas trees, and I was happy to see we have some churches and families that are sponsoring trees. I’d say about two thirds of our trees are done by businesses and non-profit groups, and about a third are done by our volunteers.”

At the YWCA, spokesperson Kindra McHale said her group always looks forward to the festival.

“It’s one of our many fundraisers, but we also consider it a community event where we get to show off our space,” said McHale. “It’s our open house, so we’re happy to welcome the community to our facility and at the same time they can also check out some beautiful Christmas trees.”

Front doors to both the society and the YWCA will be closed. That’s typically the way it is at the historical society — visitors enter through a side door — while at the YWCA a major construction project has closed the front entrance.

“Our front stairs are under repair, so people do have to use our back entrance to get in the building,” said McHale. “And due to COVID restrictions, people do have to check in at the front desk to sign in, where we can make sure everyone is wearing a mask.”

The Zonta Club of Schenectady, the Schenectady Business and Professional Women’s Club and the local Kiwanis Club are among the regular sponsors of trees at the YWCA.

Along with the Festival of Trees event, the historical society has a number of opportunities for the public to enjoy the holidays. Sweet Sprig, a soapmaker and gift shop inside the Brouwer House Creative on Church Street, will be open Wednesdays through Saturday during the holiday season.

The Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction, another SCHS property, is also offering tours Tuesdays through Saturdays and on Dec. 28 a special event, A Mabee Christmas Carol, featuring the Schenectady Historical Wassailers, will be held from 5-7 p.m.

“The Hugh Platt Garden Club has done a wonderful job of decorating all three of our buildings,” said Zawacki. “And we’re hoping that people who come see the Festival of Trees will want to walk over and check out the Brouwer House, the oldest home in Schenectady.”

For more information about the Festival of Trees, visit

‘Festival of Trees’

WHERE: The Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Ave., and the YWCA of Schenectady, 44 Washington Ave, in Schenectady
WHEN: Through Dec. 23; 10 a.m.-5 p..m. daily; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on Fridays
HOW MUCH: $6 for adults, free for children under 12

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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