By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Festive crowd flocks to lane
Thousands bundled up to brave the chilly Saturday night air to experience the warmth of the Christmas spirit through the Ceres Christmas Festival, the precursor to the opening of Christmas Tree Lane.

A pilgrimmage of area residents - many with the kids in tow - flocked to Smyrna Park to check out the local talent of singers and dancers and activities for children. They also were dazzled by the display of lights on Henry and Vaughn streets, which for December is officially Christmas Tree Lane.

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 400 children got to see Santa and Mrs. Claus. The city charged $1 per Polaroid photo, or waived the cost in exchange for a can of food. Approximately 200 Polaroids were taken before the film supply ran out, said Doug Lemcke, director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Ceres. Other parents opted to take their own photos with digital cameras.

The Polar Post Office tent provided kids a chance to write letters to Santa Claus. Approximately 250 letters were collected during the evening festival. Lemcke said that the children will receive responses, courtesy of the Ceres Youth Commission.

"It was a great success," said Lemcke.

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.

Lemcke said the city improved the layout of the entertainment area this year, creating a seating and bleacher area for approximately 700 to watch performances.

"I thought it was fantastic, as usual," said Mayor Anthony Cannella of the festival. "I love going to these events where the community comes together and they bring their kids."

Cannella and his wife brought his own children to enjoy the fun.

"They had a great time. It was a great night. The weather cooperated; it didn't rain or anything. But it was a little chilly."

Lemcke said that the city was only able to pull off the event through all the volunteers, including members of the Ceres Senior Citizens Club. The approximately 20 members of the Ceres Youth Commission manned the activities booths and took photos of children with Santa.

"Without their help, quite frankly, we probably wouldn't be able do these types of things," said Lemcke.

The festival ended and transitioned to the corner of Henry and Moffet where the ribbon to Christmas Tree Lane was cut. Members of the Ceres City Council boarded a wagon ride pulled by George Cabral's draft horses. Vice Mayor Rob Phipps, who died unexpectedly on Sunday morning, had attended the event and taken the first wagon ride down Christmas Tree Lane.

This year marks the 46th for Christmas Tree Lane in Ceres. Homeowners in the Northview subdivision have come and gone since its inception in 1961, but all abide by an unwritten expectation to participate in dazzling light displays.

Steve Peeden said he moved to Vaughn Street six years ago. "It was my wife's dream to live on Christmas Tree Lane and I didn't have a choice," he said with a chuckle.

Peeden has one of the most illuminated yards on the lane, complete with tall candy cane poles. He estimates that he spends $300 to $400 for lights for the season - probably the reason he pays a $500 electric bill for the month.

On Saturday he invited his father, Charls Nicknes of Oakdale, to play Santa.

Community Christmas spirit will also be on tap this Friday for the lighting of the Christmas Tree in the Whitmore Park gazebo. Ceres residents are invited to the ceremony at 6 p.m. The Ceres Garden Club will present its annual event at the park 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.