Santa’s workshop. A train garden. Live kid-friendly bands. A full carousel. Child-sized trains. “Reindeer” pony rides. Letter writing stations. Holiday arts and crafts…

The Cow Palace at the Maryland State Fairgrounds transforms into the north pole this weekend to kick off the holiday season with Kennedy Kreiger’s 20th Annual Festival of Trees. A winter wonderland for kids and kids at heart, this annual fundraiser for Kennedy Kreiger Institute attracts hundreds of tree designers who compete for accolades – – and thousands of area families seeking holiday culture.

Designers range from kindergartners to CEOs of regional businesses, amateurs to pros. And supply all of their own decorations.

Finished trees (artificial – – and supplied by Kennedy Kreiger) are priced to sell. After all, this is a fundraiser for the Institute as much as it is a holiday extravaganza. But it’s the stories behind the tree designs that caught our attention.

Middle school students at St. James Academy have created a tree entitled One World, Our Earth. Their studies inspired their tree, as they investigate how individuals can have an impact on the world. Be sure to stop and look at their tree topper – – a paper mache “earth” being held by a rainbow of hands. It was hand created by their Spirit club. Dianne Fowler, dean of students, said that more than 100 students contributed to decorating the tree!

Phillip Cullotta, general manager of Sabatino’s Italian Restaurant in Little Italy, found his design inspiration in his son’s favorite book. Christmas — With a Chance of Meatballs is a whimsical take on a classic picture book and a favorite dish of the restaurant’s youngest patrons. told us that while he was the sole decorator for Sabatino’s tree, his three children lent their creativity and ideas to his design. This is the third year the restaurant has competed in the competition, although it’s been a few years since their last entry. The tree topper? A giant pot spilling… well… guess?

Parents and children working together is a common theme throughout the trees you’ll find in this holiday fantasy land. Baltimore Mommies has been holding several area play dates to create ornaments for their tree submission, Candy Land. Kristin Sausville, charitable events manager for Baltimore Mommies, said that they wanted to choose a theme that would appeal to children and “lend itself easily to the children making the ornaments.” Her favorite ornaments are the ones that look like wrapped candy – – a craft she herself made in her own kindergarten class and loved recreating the experience with her three year old son! To create the ornaments, they decorated construction paper circles, wrapped them in plastic wrap and tied them with pipe cleaners.

The Festival runs Friday through Sunday, 10 AM – 9 PM the first two days and 10 AM – 6 PM the last day. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids ages 5-12 and seniors. Children 4 and under are FREE. You can buy your tickets online for $2 less.

Don’t miss our fav local band Milkshake’s live performances on Friday at 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM. Rumor has it, they’ll be debuting a new Christmas tune! If you have a chance to talk to Santa, put in a good word for us, will you?

(cool) tip: Word on the mommy street is that morning is the best time to hit up the festival, especially for those with young kids. The crowds can get pretty heavy starting at lunchtime.