The Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees: A Winter Wonderland

This Memphis holiday tradition is a favorite of young and old alike

By Sally Walker Davies,

Imagine a forest full of whimsically-decorated trees, complete with charming woodland creatures and teddy bears. In this magical forest, busy elves are hard at work to fill Santa's sleigh, and dozens of penguins play in the snow.

Since the late 1940s, this splendid winter wonderland has come to life every holiday season in Memphis. The Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees began as holiday displays, the brainchild of a man named George Hettinger – the display director for Goldsmith's, once the city's top department store.

The downtown shopping destination took up an entire city block, and Hettinger's ideas for varied displays of winter wonder were displayed each holiday season throughout the store through the 1960s, when all the separate displays were combined into one grand display on the ground floor of Goldsmith's.

Mice at work at the Enchanted Forest — Photo courtesy of Lindsey Turner

Each year, the display grew bigger and brighter than the last. Eventually, new characters were added from popular holiday movies and books.

When Goldsmith's shut its downtown location, the Enchanted Forest popped up in a variety of other locations, including the too-big Agricenter. Finally, it found a home that was sized just right, inside the Pink Palace Museum.

Today, the Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees combines the old-school forest animals doing their winter work: mice are baking, penguins are skiing and other animals are wrapping gifts or building igloos.

To get to the Enchanted Forest, though, you first have to go through the Festival of Trees.

Avenue upon avenue of sparkly themed trees are decorated by local businesses and organizations, and they're populated with animated woodland animals. There's a snow-covered gingerbread village, created by local chefs and their helpers (Businesses, organizations and individuals all get in on the fun.), ringed by a full-scale miniature train, a nod to the city's importance in the rail industry.

The proceeds from this magical event benefit LeBonheur Children's Hospital. At the Penguin Pond, visitors can even "sponsor" a cuddly penguin, which will be given to a LeBonheur patient.

This holiday tradition is a favorite of young and old alike; many Memphians who first visited as children in the 1950s and '60s are now grandparents who bring their grandchildren to experience the wonder.

Admission to the Enchanted Forest, which usually runs from mid-November through New Year's Eve, is $5 for children ages three through 12 and senior citizens. Admission for adults is $6. Pictures with Santa are $10. Admission to the festival is separate from admission to the museum.