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Every year since 1961, Henry and Vaughn streets in Ceres have been transformed into a holiday wonderland. This Saturday the tradition of Christmas Tree Lane gets underway for the 46th time - right after the community parties a little bit Saturday evening at Smyrna Park for the annual Ceres Christmas Festival.

The 20th annual Christmas Festival is hosted by the city of Ceres and begins with the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus at Smyrna Park at 5:30 p.m. Children may have a picture taken with the famous North Pole couple for $1 or for free with a canned food donation. Performances by local groups will begin at 5:45 p.m. The public may enjoy a ride on a horse-drawn wagon down Christmas Tree Lane, partake of some free refreshments, write a letter to Santa or do a Christmas craft.

The festival will then disband and move to nearby Henry and Vaughn streets which will be transformed into Christmas Tree Lane.

John and Trina Burgess, who moved to Henry Avenue three years ago, love getting in the spirit by decorating for the lane.

"It's a blast," said John Burgess, who was decorating yesterday. "I love it."

He admitted that sometimes it's a hassle putting up with the crowds and gas fumes, but he said he "wouldn't want to live anywhere else."

The longtime Ceres resident said he visited Christmas Tree Lane as a kid and found it a magical place at night.

"I asked the realtor if the city helped out with the electric bill and he said 'no.' And I said, 'Well, is it mandatory?' And he said, 'No, but your neighbors wouldn't be happy and probably wouldn't loan you tools and that sort of thing.'"

Tree lighting at Whitmore Park

Ceres residents can get a jumpstart on the holiday festivities a day early. The Ceres Garden Club will present its annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at 6 p.m. on Friday, in the Whitmore Park gazebo. The park is located in downtown Ceres at Third Street between North and El Camino.

Refreshments will be served and the children are invited to speak with Santa Claus. Entertainment will be provided by Ric Campero and the Ceres High School Jazz Band. The public is invited and there is no charge for this event. It is recommended you bring a lawn chair.

For more information call: 541-3758 or e-mail

Modesto parade on tap

Downtown Modesto will be all aglow during the Annual Celebration of Lights Holiday Parade at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. With a requirement for lights on all parade entries, the Celebration of Lights Parade lights up the night and helps kick off the holiday season for Modesto.

Each year, the parade draws thousands of spectators to the downtown area with the parade beginning at the corner of 15th and I streets. This year's theme is "Storybook Holiday" and Santa will make his way through the parade on a Modesto Fire Department truck, so mark your calendars now and plan on attending Modesto's holiday tradition!

The Celebration of Lights Parade will begin at 15th and I Streets and will follow I Street to 10th Street, over the J Street and back down to 15th Street. Streets in and around the parade area will be closed beginning at 2 p.m. and will re-open at approximately 7:30 p.m.

New this year, the Celebration of Lights will become an all day event with fun and exciting features. There will be a Holiday Craft Fair, Dodge Ridge Snowboarding Exhibition, the traditional Dickens Faire along with a special Farmers Market and a showing of Warren Millers Playground at the State Theatre.

For more information on any of the Modesto events, call 577-5344 or visit

Journey to Bethlehem

The celebrated "Journey to Bethlehem" gets underway tomorrow at Grace Community Christian Church, 3754 Service Road. The event is repeated Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 6, 7 and 8. Gates open week nights at 7 p.m. and close at 9 p.m. while the Saturday gates open at 6 p.m. and close at 9 p.m.

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.

Pastor Wayne Unger and his wife Sue began the event a decae ago, modeling the event after one started by his home pastor in St. Charles, Mo.

Because it's not uncommon for crowds of 1,300 to show up in a single night, participants are urged to come early to reduce the wait and come bundled in blankets because the experience is all outdoors in chilly temperatures.

Limited parking is available at the church site at 3754 E. Service Road, but free parking and shuttle service is available at Orchard Park Shopping Center at the corner of Mitchell and Don Pedro roads. For more information, call 531-1902.

Pulling off the event is no small task. Set building starts in late spring. There's also costume making. The cast begins practicing in the fall. It all comes together with the help of approximatey 250 people as the church's largest ministry of the year.