Night for Treedom

Dreams of a white Christmas remain unfulfilled year after year for most of us in this land of vitality and vice. Except for what emanates from our beloved air conditioner and the occasional chilly day, cold weather doesn't exist here. Sitting inside by the fire would be silly. Sledding is nearly impossible with all the traffic. And Christmas caroling along sunny streets lined with lush green palms seems paradoxical unless, of course, you're crooning "Feliz Navidad."

Nevertheless Christmas traditions chug on in Miami. Take our trees: Tall emerald pines have been livening Florida rooms since the beginning of time. (The Christmas tree tradition in the western world actually came about because snowed-in Europeans starved for signs of life would bring green pines indoors.) In South Florida there certainly is no lack of outdoor activity, thus the wintry tree is more symbolic, a sign of holiday revelry and an attractive ornament for our homes.

Yet never satisfied, we long for more. Many Miamians are utterly convinced that good looks, even the appearance of verdant foliage, always can be improved. Hence Festival of the Trees, an exhibition of 22 aesthetically pleasing Christmas trees that will go on display this Thursday. The presentation opens with a lavish gala and stays open to the public through December 29. The spacious lobby of a Brickell Avenue office building will house the eye-catchers, which show off the talents of designers and architects from local firms. Dreamed up by the honchos at the Florida International University School of Architecture and Interior Design, the festivities raise scholarship funds for the institution. Every year the opening bash lures creative types to mix, mingle, and see where each designer or firm is headed.

Jaime Arús of RTKL Snoweiss will be among them; he's part of the team of architects fashioning his firm's tree. A tribute to elements of nature -- rain, earth, mountain, and ocean -- the tree actually will be a tower displaying embellished sandblasted glass pieces through which light can shine. "The holidays are a time to think about meaningful things: the people you love, your family, your relationships," remarks Arús. "People forget their relationship with nature, and that is just as important."

Ever since the event's beginnings fourteen years ago, myriad themes have been explored. Some have been political, some funny, some sentimental, and others merely decorative. One year a dramatic tree strewn with deflated rafts and barbed wire commemorated the plight of Haitian and Cuban rafters. Another work depicted the colorful sturdy shoulders of a Florida Seminole woman, highlighting an important part of this community that often is ignored.

Not insignificant are the contributions of organizers, sponsors, and designers who have selflessly volunteered their time and energy to the affair, emphasizing the lesson Dr. Seuss's ornery Grinch learned: The goodwill encouraged by Christmastime is for all to enjoy. Dennis Jenkins, director of FIU's School of Interior Design, agrees: "This festival is really about the holiday spirit. It promotes generosity of the human spirit and a good cause."

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Maya Ibars