AUGUSTA — About 30 decorated trees, each surrounded by or filled with potential Christmas gifts, wait inside the under-renovation Colonial Theater in downtown Augusta to be raffled off this weekend.

For the first time this year, the River of Trees, a fundraiser for the Augusta Downtown Alliance, the Colonial Theater and the Kennebec Valley Humane Society, will take place inside the theater, a building that not too long ago was so neglected it had a tree growing out from among the bricks in one of its walls.

“It was always our goal to have the River of Trees inside the Colonial Theater, so it’s like we’re really bringing it home,” said Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance and a member of the Colonial Theater’s board of directors. “We haven’t had many public events in the theater, so this is big.

“It gets people inside so they can see the progress going on,” he added. “We want people to get excited.”

The three-day event featuring the raffle of artificial trees, each of them coming with $500 to $1,000 worth of merchandise or gift cards for services donated by local businesses, will be part of multiple holiday-related events in downtown Augusta over the weekend. Also on tap are the city’s annual holiday tree lighting and fireworks show over the Kennebec River on Saturday, and a Victorian Christmas living history experience just across the river at Old Fort Western.

“We’ll be ready for folks to come and have a good time. There’s a lot going on,” said Leif Dahlin, community services director for the city. “The more the merrier. We want to fill up downtown. We want to complement what’s going on there.”

The River of Trees, in which participants buy raffle tickets for 50 cents each and enter as many tickets as they want for each of the themed trees, starts at 11 a.m. Friday and continues Saturday and Sunday. Winners of each tree will be drawn Sunday, with the winning ticket holder getting both the tree itself and the donated items and services that go with it.

Admission to the event costs $2.

Hall said the fundraiser, which has moved around to various downtown locations in recent years, is an important one, generating more than $10,000 a year for the organizations involved.

Related River of Trees activities also at the Colonial this weekend include a poinsettia sale to benefit the theater, live music all three days, gingerbread decorating for children Saturday and Sunday, and on Sunday afternoon, a visit to the theater by Santa Claus.

Santa also will be a featured guest at Saturday’s tree lighting ceremonies and downtown events leading up to it. Those events get underway at 1 p.m. and are scheduled to include horse-drawn hay wagon rides leaving from outside Key Plaza, letter-writing and holiday crafts for children inside 190 Water St., and dance troupe performances outside at Market Square. Santa is expected to help light Augusta’s holiday tree at 5 p.m., to be followed by fireworks shot off over the river, from the east side boat landing.

Across the river on Saturday afternoon, Old Fort Western will host an old-time Victorian Christmas as part of the holiday festivities in Augusta. Plans there include holiday music played on a Victrola record player, applesauce-making demonstrations, and tastings of old-fashioned holiday treats in the kitchen. Visitors also will be able to warm themselves by a hearth fire in the parlor.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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