Christmas Tree Forests and Gingerbread Houses

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Rio Grande Valley – the holidays are here. That’s right, despite blue skies, swaying palms, and mid-70s temperatures, Christmas is right around the corner. Or Hanukkah. Or Kwanzaa. Or, if you’re a kid, the arrival of Santa. Whatever you celebrate, get into the holiday spirit at the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen.

IMAS has wintery fun for the whole family, like their Christmas Tree Forest exhibition. The Forest is an annual tradition, spearheaded year after year by the IMAS Guild. Santa’s elves got nothin’ on the Guild; this group of women has supported the museum in numerous ways since 1970. Formerly docents and greeters, members of the Guild have graduated to high-holiday event-planner status, a role that requires equal parts type-A organizational skills and enthusiasm for hand-crafted ornaments. In other words, the Guild is perfect for it.

While “forest” may be too strong a word, the Christmas Tree Forest is certainly the largest grouping of evergreens you’ll find in McAllen. The Forest will be installed in the IMAS Welcome Pavilion, transforming the space into a maze of Christmas trees. Each tree will be decked out by a local school, club, business, or other group, making for a very festive collection indeed.

Naturally, there will be a contest to see which tree is decorated the best (the holidays are nothing if not a time for competition). Participating decorators enter one of five categories based on age: Kinder – 2nd, upper elementary, middle school, high school, and then adult/single family/organization. Judges assess the trees in each category according to two strict rules: 1) Every decoration must be handmade, and 2) The decorations must represent the year’s theme.

This year’s theme is “Christmas in Toyland.” The possibilities are endless, though we’re anticipating heavy usage of Toy Story and Frozen characters. And no, high school groups, your smartphones do not count as toys. Contest winners will be announced on November 22nd and immortalized (at least until early January) by a prize ribbon tied to their tree.

The trees will go up in mid-November and stay until early January. That’s plenty of time to take a holiday stroll through the piney “woods” with family, friends, or, for our romantic readers, significant others. Attention, boyfriends: you will get brownie points for planning this activity.

Need more than Christmas trees to get the holiday spirit going? Try one of IMAS’s gingerbread house workshops. Release your inner architect/confectioner at one of the eight workshops during the first two weekends in December. There will be Christmas music, Christmas hats, and no one will yell at you for eating your house’s roof tiles. Kids love this event. Be sure to sign up early by calling IMAS – (956) 682-0123 – or dropping by the museum.

Now, for many of us, the holidays are about more than candy and sparkly lights. They’re a time for reflection, prayer, and connecting with our loved ones. If this sounds like you, we recommend bypassing the Christmas Tree Forest for Sacred Visions. Sacred Visions is IMAS’s permanent stained Tiffany glass gallery exhibit – one of only three in the country. On sunny days, visiting the gallery feels like standing in a rainbow. It’s a beautiful, quiet place to pause and reflect on all the blessings of the holiday season.

Whatever your holiday habits, IMAS has something for you. Pay a visit to this community cultural treasure. You’ll leave full of Christmas cheer, even on the hottest day in December.