Festival of Tiny Trees returns

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BENNINGTON — The annual Festival of Tiny Trees is back again at The Dollhouse and Toy Museum of Vermont, with more than 150 dollhouse-size Christmas trees ranging in size from an inch to a foot either placed in the dollhouses or exhibited on their own.

In addition to having more trees than ever, this year's exhibit features trees created by local artists, including Beverly Petrellis, Theodora Petrellis and Helen Greene, all of whom taught art in local schools. Some of these artists' trees are more modern and unconventional than traditional trees. Additional artists are working on yet more miniature trees to be added to the collection between now and the holidays.

The holiday display also features large and ornate nutcrackers, many of them made in Germany in the form of 18th-century soldiers, kings and Saint Nicholas (Sankt Nikolaus) figures, and also a collection of vintage Christmas cards, many of them exchanged by Vermonters a century ago.

Although both Christmas cards and Christmas trees now are very common, that wasn't always the case. Christmas cards began in Britain in 1843 and Christmas trees — which long had been common in Germany — didn't become widely popular in Britain or the United States until the Victorian era, when Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, who was from Germany, installed one in Windsor Castle.

These two traditions are of particular interest to Vermonters because Calvin Coolidge was the first president to send out White House Christmas cards and to have a large National Christmas Tree erected on the White House grounds. That first tree, which was donated by Middlebury College, was a 43-foot-tall Vermont balsam fir that was decorated with 2,300 red, white and green bulbs and was lighted on Dec. 24, 1923.

The Coolidges began sending out cards from the White House in 1927, but only to a handful of relatives and friends. Every president followed that practice, and by the time Dwight Eisenhower was president the number of presidential Christmas cards had grown to about 1,300. More recently, President George W. Bush sent out 875,000.

The Dollhouse Museum, which also is the home of Vermont MoMA (the Vermont Museum of Miniature Art), has a large assortment of fully furnished standard size dollhouses, including Victorian, Cape Cod, English Tudor, and many kinds of urban townhouses. The museum's permanent collection includes more than 300 dolls, as well as many puppets, toy trains and planes and other vintage toys for boys.

The museum is located at the corner of Union and Valentine Streets in Bennington, and is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. or by appointment. It has extended hours during the holiday season, when it is open every day between Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is $2 for children three or older, $4 for adults and $10 for families. For more information, visit the museum's website at dollhouseandtoymuseumofvermont.com or call 802 681-3767.

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