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Christmas Tree Lane turns 50
While most people were out shopping on Black Friday, residents of Henry Avenue and Vaughn Street were fetching boxes of decorations from their attics, propping up their ladders and dolling up their homes and yards for Christmas decorations in anticipation of Christmas Tree Lane.

The 24th annual Ceres Christmas Festival on Saturday will formally open the 50th season of Christmas Tree Lane as a Ceres tradition. The first Christmas Tree Lane opened December 1961 on Henry Avenue and Vaughn Street. Fifty years later and it's going strong.

The city of Ceres is sponsoring the 5:30 p.m. festival in nearby Smyrna Park which is free to the public and should last about two hours. Highlights of the festival will include performances by local talent, arts and crafts, face painting, a tent where children may write letters to Santa, free coffee, cocoa and cookies, and pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus ($2 each or free with a donation of canned food). Horse-drawn carriage rides will begin being offered at 7:30 p.m.

Jim Bower has participated in 40 of the 50 years of Christmas Tree Lane. His yard is best known for a familiar plywood train which he built and modeled after a grocery display he once spied as manager of the New Deal store in Modesto.

"It's part of our giving back to the community, the elderly and the kids," said Bower. "It's our way of saying 'Merry Christmas.' There's lots of good people who live on Christmas Tree Lane."

Each year Bower and his wife Sheila have lost items taken from the yard but it hasn't deterred their seasonal effort.

"We always have theft. Every year they get me for something. It's sad but you can't let one bad apple ruin the whole show."

Around the bend, Steve Joseph's yard was bathed in sunshine Friday as he was setting up strands of lights attached to a pole in the shape of a tall Christmas tree.

"It's a lot of work but I really enjoy it," said Joseph, who has set up his yard display for 10 years. His yard is the one with the lights synchronized with Christmas tunes.

He hasn't always been joyous about the public's lack of appreciation for the efforts of lane dwellers.

"Sometimes it's a bummer. Friends have had stuff stolen from their yards and that grieves me. The trash is lamentable."

Joseph said all the lights and electricity to power his festive display creates a higher power bill, similar to what he pays in summer months. But he hopes he sees more savings with an increased amount of LED lights.

The city has pledged to help alleviate problems on the lane this year with increased police presence, increased trash pickup and a crackdown on illegal vendors.

If you can't wait for Saturday to get in the Christmas spirit, check out the fun of the 6 p.m. Friday Christmas Tree lighting at at the Whitmore Park gazebo hosted by the Ceres Garden Club. Entertainment will be offered by the Central Valley High School Band and color guard. Santa and refreshments will round out the offering, which is open to the public.