November 10, 2016

For years Sundance Square has provided Fort Worth with a Christmas tree to be proud of. But how does such a large, live blue spruce get to Sundance Square Plaza? Where does it come from? Keep reading to find out everything you’ve ever wondered about the Christmas tree in Sundance Square.

Finding the Tree: Where Christmas Trees Grow

The Sundance Square Christmas tree begins its journey at a residence in Michigan.

The summertime Texas heat isn’t exactly conducive to growing Christmas trees. That’s why Christmas tree broker Tony Sandone grows his Christmas trees in Michigan and sells them in the DFW area.

Sometime in the late Spring, Sundance Square reaches out to Tony to find just the right Christmas tree. Tony goes to Michigan and drives around looking for a blue spruce between 55 and 60 feet tall. (His tree farm doesn’t grow them quite that big.) If the trees are any taller than that, they start to look lanky and less like a Christmas tree. Besides, that’s the size tree Sundance Square has lights for.

Tony’s journey usually takes him through residential areas. He looks for trees in people’s yards. Evergreens grow so quickly in Michigan that sometimes they get too big and overpower a house or garage. In many cases, homeowners’ insurance recommends people take the tree out before it has the chance to cause damage. When Tony finds one that fits the requirements, he knocks on the homeowners’ door and offers to buy it. This is a win-win situation. The homeowner doesn’t have to pay to have the tree removed. In fact, they receive payment for the tree.

Once Tony finds just the right tree and the homeowner agrees to sell it to him, he treats the tree for pests and disease so that nothing happens to it before it makes the trek down to Fort Worth in November.

On a designated Friday in November, a crew carefully place bands around the tree and connect them to a crane before cutting the tree down. This process ensures the tree doesn’t fall. The tree is then wrapped (baled for those in agriculture who understand the difference) for protection and laid on an extended flatbed semi trailer. The truck spends the weekend driving the tree from Michigan to its place of honor in Sundance Square.

sundance_christmas_image1

Placing the Tree: Strong and Secure

The tree arrives in Sundance Square Monday morning. Tree crews are met by the crane operators of Wildcat Cranes, Inc., who for years have donated their time and the use of their equipment to set up the Sundance Square Christmas tree.

Before the tree is even lifted from the truck, the trunk must be trimmed to fit the tree stand precisely. With the help of a template designed for just such occasion, crews shape the trunk of the tree. Once the tree trunk is prepared, Wildcat Crane lifts the tree from the truck and, with the help of workers on the ground, guides the tree into its stand.

The tree stand itself, a solid steel frame filled with multiple concrete weights, weighs approximately 5,000 pounds. In addition to the stand itself, where the template shaped trunk is fitted and water keeps it fresh, there is a system of anchors in Sundance Square Plaza. Steel poles crafted to look like candy canes set down in a variety of spots the Plaza. Guide wires stretch from the top of the candy cane anchors to the tree. This holds the tree straight and ensures it won’t blow down on a gusty day. The stands and anchors are engineered so that the tree and the surrounding area is safe. That tree isn’t going anywhere until it comes down in January.

Once the tree is placed, a few crew members climb up into it to untie the bands and tie in any branches that broke in transit. The process is done by early afternoon, and the tree sits for the rest of the day letting branches settle and the new highlight of downtown Fort Worth adjust to its new home.

Decorating the Tree: Make It Sparkle

On Tuesday, the decorating company puts the lights on the tree. It takes 6,000 LED lights and a smattering of LED strobes (that emulate subtle twinkling) to create the full effect. Sundance Square uses LED lights because they are more environmentally friendly. Being responsible with natural resources is a high value to Sundance Square, as indicated by our partnership with Green Mountain Energy.

Even with LED lights, the Christmas tree pulls a lot of power. As a result, Sundance Square has a custom-built electrical panel that hooks right into the grid in the street. (Oncor makes sure it’s done properly.)

Once the lights and star are on the tree and powered, the ornaments can be added. The balls and snowflakes that decorate the tree must be repaired and scuffs removed before they hang on the branches. Iridescent material covers the ornaments so that they will reflect light, even during the day.

The tree is not complete without the set that surrounds it. For the past 10 years, Santa’s stage and the surrounding decor has been based on The Nutcracker. The ballet that traditionally plays at Bass Hall over the holidays is a perfect blend of whimsy and elegance, much like Sundance Square itself.

Lighting the Tree: A Sundance Square Event for Kids of All Ages

For years the Parade of Lights and the Christmas tree lighting were on the same night. It made for a long night for families with young children. By the time the tree was lit, the kids’ attention spans had expired and they missed the big event. Not any more. The events are on back-to-back nights, allowing visitors from out of town to make a weekend of it. The tree lighting is a brief program that includes characters from The Nutcracker and Santa sightings. In sum total it’s only about 30 minutes, so the kids can enjoy the event without losing interest and families can enjoy a bite to eat before or after.

sundance_christmas_image2Enjoying the Tree: A Visit with Santa

Fort Worth Sister Cities International provides all of the volunteers for Santa’s set and the pictures with Santa. Sundance Square provides the set and covers Santa’s “travel expenses”. All of the proceeds from the pictures go to Sister Cities where they use the funds for scholarships. Youth volunteers earn points to help them visit sister cities around the world. Nobody on the set, with the exception of Santa (who is compensated for his celebrity appearance), gets paid.

Santa began making an appearance in Sundance Square around the holidays back in 2001. That first year, Sister Cities earned $5,000 for their organization. In 2016, it was closer to $48,000. At a rate of $10 per picture, that’s close to 5,000 pictures with Santa. Sundance Square has tried hard to expand the hours Santa is available so we can accommodate as many excited children as possible. If the line is long when you get there, keep in mind that $10 is less than you would pay at the mall for an entire package and the money goes to a good cause. (It’s also good to remember that Santa’s watching.)

This year, Santa will make an appearance before the lighting of the tree. Usually he waits until the tree is lit, but he’s getting here early for anyone who might want to beat the rush.

Repurposing the Tree: For the Environment, For the Community

When Santa’s work is done and it’s time for the tree to come down, the cranes return. Much of the tree is cut into pieces and mulched in a chipper, but the trunk is reserved for something extra special. A lumber mill transforms the trunk of the tree into big boards that become part of the Habitat for Humanity house Sundance Square builds every March. In 2015, the boards were used to build the shutters so that the new homeowner could proudly say, “The shutters on our house came from the Christmas tree.”

From the time it is chosen by Tony until the time it becomes part of a deserving family’s home, the Sundance Square Christmas tree brings joy to all.

This year’s schedule of events:

  • Tree arrives in Sundance Square: Monday, November 14 at 9 a.m.
  • Santa arrives in Sundance Square: Saturday, November 19 at 11 a.m.
  • Tree lighting: Saturday, November 19 at 6 p.m.