The Burr Homestead was dressed in its holiday best for the 31st annual Fairfield Christmas Tree Festival, which traditionally transforms the classic historic mansion into a dazzling holiday showplace.

The walls and furniture were adorned with Christmas decorations, from traditional to environmental, from sophisticated to youthful, almost all of which were available for purchase. It's as if the mansion was wrapped up as a Christmas gift to the two charitable organizations -- the Cardinal Shehan Center in Bridgeport and the Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center -- that benefit from the proceeds of this year's event.

Over the course of three decades, the festival has raised about $3 million and, in recent years, the annual take has been between $150,000 and $200,000, with all of the net proceeds going to the designated local charities, which differ from year to year.

Nancy Church, community education coordinator for the Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center, said the funding raised at this year's festival will support the center's programs, including treatment and efforts to educate teenagers and their mothers about breast health and the importance of developing good life-long habits for overall wellness.

"Every dollar spent is going to enrich the lives of those less fortunate," said Mary Jo McAvey, one of four festival co-chairwomen. "This is a great holiday kick-off for the town. It inspired the holiday spirit in everybody while benefitting good causes," she said.

"It's the beginning of the season and it's a great way to start it," said Betty Kocaba of Trumbull, one of hundreds of people who wandered through the mansion Friday admiring the handiwork of about two dozen interior designers and artists. "There are more beautiful rooms upstairs. You don't know where to look first."

This year's festival theme was, "A Season We Share; Enriching Lives, Saving Lives and Instilling Hope." A secondary, and not necessarily intended theme, was Fairfield's coastline. Many designers featured seashells, sea stars and seahorses in their wreaths, garlands and trees.

"How creative to use materials that are earthy along with the glitzy," said Linda Moore of Fairfield, who admired the decor in the first-floor living room. It featured an elaborate garland of seashells created by Candy Raveis, one of the founders of the Fairfield Christmas Tree Festival. Raveis, who remains a member of the festival board, also decorated furniture with shells.

"It's amazing how they come up with these ideas," Moore said.

With a name like Beth Santa it seemed only appropriate that the owner of Nest of Southport and her associate designer Anne Pigue participated in the Christmas Tree Festival. Their room on the second floor featured vibrant colors not generally associated with the December holiday season. So did the second-floor parlor, a room adorned with wreaths, garlands and trees decorated by Jennifer Bartlett, a member of the festival board. Bartlett wove brightly colored felt animal puppets onto the holiday paraphernalia.

"It's very unique. It's bright and bold," said volunteer Tina Nocom.

"I love this room. It's a happy room. I think the house this year is very spectacular," said festival volunteer Elizabeth Finn of Fairfield. "We've all gone through so much in the last three weeks," she said, referring to the damage suffered during Hurricane Sandy. "It's nice to see something happy. I love this festival. You see so much time and effort go into this," she said.

McAvey said there are hundreds of volunteers who work tirelessly to put together the event each year. Some of the designers start working on their concepts as early as June, and come the day after Thanksgiving -- "They camp out here through to the opening to make the magic come to life," McAvey said.

Besides unique holiday decorations throughout the Burr Homestead, the Fairfield Christmas Tree Festival had other special features, including a visit by Santa Claus, who compiled names for his "naughty" and "nice" lists; a gala on Saturday night; a Victorian Holiday Tea on Sunday; custom-crafted green wreaths; a holiday boutique and the annual quilt raffle.


(remaining schedule)

Saturday, Dec. 1: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 2: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


Saturday, Dec. 1

Holiday Gala: House preview, cocktails, light dinner, silent and live auctions and dancing 6:30 to 10 p.m. $150, $225 and $300 per person. Reservations required.

Sunday, Dec. 2

Tea party: Traditional Christmas tea catered by the Royal Tea Company and a champagne auction. Noon to 2 p.m. $50 person. Reservations required.

Quilt-raffle drawing: Drawing for three prizes in a quilt raffle. Raffle tickets are $5 and winners need not be present at the drawing


Adults, $10; children and seniors, $5

Reservations and tickets for special events may be purchased online at