By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Ceres opens Christmas season with festive celebration
As children composed their letter to Santa Claus, hundreds of others were getting into the holiday spirit at the annual Ceres Christmas Festival on Saturday evening.

Getting into the Christmas swing of things meant watching a host of community youth groups performed to holiday tunes under the Smyrna Park shelter, emceed by Mayor Chris Vierra. To others it was getting in a photo opp with Santa and Mrs. Claus. To others, sipping on hot cocoa and conversing with neighbors. But all felt pure Christmas as they strolled the dazzling display of Christmas lights and decorations on Christmas Tree Lane.

The event was the official kickoff for the opening of Ceres' greatest holiday tradition. Residents of Henry and Vaughn streets have been going all out with Christmas decorations since 1961. On Saturday the streets were closed down to vehicular traffic for unimpeded pedestrian strolls down the lane.

Many homeowners laughed and chatted around small warming fires as horse-drawn wagon rides provided by Rolling H Carriage Company moved down the lane to the sound of clopping hooves.

At Smyrna Park, a long line of parents holding children or pushing strollers formed for the first tent where Santa and Mrs. Claus posed for photos. The couple (which resembled Del and Shirley Davis), was often amused by the youngsters who were at times eager and at times petrified to sit in the lap of the famous bearded man from the North Pole. An estimated 175 children got to pose with Santa and Mrs. Claus. The city charged $2 per Polaroid photo, or waived the cost in exchange for a can of food. Other parents opted to take their own photos with digital cameras.

Recreation coordinator Cambria Pollinger estimated that there were at least 700 in attendance.

The Polar Post Office tent provided kids a chance to write letters to Santa Claus. Approximately 161 letters were collected during the evening festival.

The third booth was dubbed "Santa's Workshop," giving children a chance to have their face painted as well as finish a number of holiday crafts, courtesy of the city.

Assisting the city with the event were members of the Ceres Senior Citizens Club who handed out refreshments to the crowd; and the Ceres Youth Commission which manned the activities booths and took photos of children with Santa.

Community Christmas spirit also was displayed Friday at the lighting of the Christmas Tree in the Whitmore Park gazebo. The event was hosted by the Ceres Garden Club and entertainment was provided by the Ceres High School Jazz Band.

Journey to Bethlehem

The celebrated "Journey to Bethlehem" continues into its final week at Grace Community Christian Church, 3754 Service Road. The venue will be repeated nightly on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8, 9, and 10. Gates open week nights at 5 p.m. with the "show" starting at 7 p.m. and gates close at 9 p.m. while the Saturday gates open at 5 p.m. and starts at 6 p.m. and closes at 9 p.m.

This is the 15th consecutive year Journey has been offered by the church.

Event organizer Pat Mason said record crowds of over 8,000 people visited Grace Community Christian church's recreation of the Christmas story over six nights in December of 2010.

Participants are urged to come early to reduce the wait and come bundled in blankets because the experience is all outdoors in chilly temperatures.

Offered since 1997, Journey seeks to recreate the experience of the pilgrimage made by Mary and Joseph in the biblical account of the birth of Jesus, the Christ child. Mary and Joseph were forced to travel to Bethlehem to participate in the census conducted by Roman officials. In those days, people had to trek to their towns of origin. At the time, Mary was pregnant with Jesus, whom would be born in a manger in Bethlehem. In Ceres, a guide takes small groups through the interactive stations, which are intended to be as realistic as possible. Mason said the market place, where the smells of cooking food and sounds of bartering customers and merchants are experienced, remains a popular aspect of Journey.