Families posing with pictures with Santa, a first-ever vendors’ fair, a festive parade and pedestrian strolls down Christmas Tree Lane helped to get thousands into the Christmas spirit at Saturday evening’s annual Ceres Christmas Festival.
The event serves as the official kickoff for the opening of Ceres’ greatest holiday tradition, Christmas Tree Lane. Residents of Henry and Vaughn streets have been going all out with seasonal Christmas decorations since 1961. On Saturday the streets were closed to vehicular traffic for unimpeded pedestrian strolls down the lane.
Many homeowners laughed and chatted around small warming fires as families enjoyed their weeks of yard and house decorating.
Tom and Sherry Payne were enjoying food around a warming fire in their Vaughn Street driveway and reflected on being a part of the 60-year tradition.
“When you see all the kids come by and all the smiles on their faces, it makes it worthwhile,” said Sherry. Her husband agreed and chimed in, “That’s the big thing is to watch the little kids.”
When asked if he looked forward to or dreaded having to decorate the yard and endure a steady stream of traffic leading up to Christmas, Tom answered: “Both.”
Over 20 years ago the Paynes purposely moved from the east side of Smyrna Park to Christmas Tree Lane, to be a part of the great tradition.
“We knew what we were doing when we moved here and we knew what was expected, and we didn’t have a problem with that,” said Sherry. “Okay, so maybe we complain a little bit but, you know, we bought here on purpose.”
Since moving to Christmas Tree Lane, the Paynes have looked forward to the tradition of decorating the house and yard. This year they have decorated the yard with plywood cutouts of Charlie Brown and other characters from Peanuts.
“This is our favorite night,” said Sherry.
“After tonight it’s kind of like Christmas is over,” said Tom. “This is such a big night for us.”
It takes the Paynes about a week to get everything ready for the first Saturday in December. “It used to take a lot longer; we used to put out a lot more but everybody gets older and more tired.”
Everyone who lives on Christmas Tree Lane has to learn how to deal with the stream of slow-moving traffic that often impedes access to their own homes – as well as the vehicle exhaust, they said.
Despite the joy it brings to thousands, Tom said the theft and vandalism of decorations “gets worse every year.”
“A couple of years ago we were down at our other neighbors and there was a dancing Christmas tree on the corner of our lot, and while we were all out in the driveway the tree walked away and nobody noticed it.”
Once some surfboards used in their decorations – the Paynes change their themes over the years – were removed but later reappeared down the street.
One neighbor a few houses doors down has adopted a theme of patriotism with military flags, Old Glory, large lighted USA letters and lights forming a patriotic bunting. The front of the house has a large screen projection of President John F. Kennedy while playing audio of his speeches.
Among those who appreciated the festival was Gumaro Sandoval who enjoyed the yuletide event with his wife and son.
“Everything was great,” he said. “A lot of people but it still had a small town celebration feel to it with everyone enjoying themselves in front of their houses. I enjoyed walking through the various neighborhoods in the street safely with my son.”
For the first time since the pandemic, the Christmas Festival resumed this year at Smyrna Park and the Costa Baseball Fields. Many vendors sold food, drink and all kind of gifts in the Costa Fields area. The city eliminated the longstanding tradition of inviting local groups to entertain families under the Smyrna Park picnic shelter. Also eliminated were the carnival games, Christmas craft making, letters to Santa and face painting.
At Smyrna Park, a long line of parents holding children or pushing strollers formed at a tent where Santa and Mrs. Claus posed for photos. The couple 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.
At 7:15 p.m. a short parade started at Smyrna Park and through Christmas Tree Lane. The parade included dancers from Ceres and Central Valley high schools and the local junior high schools. The SWAT truck and antique fire truck will also roll in the parade.
For those who want to experience Christmas Tree Lane more than once, the display is offered through until Christmas and some nights afterward.
To get to Christmas Tree Lane from Hatch Road, turn southbound onto Moffet Road. Those coming from the south may use Whitmore Avenue to Moffet Road.