The Christmas holiday spirit was in generous abundance Saturday evening when the community came together for the 29th Ceres Christmas Festival held outdoors at Smyrna Park.
For many, getting into the Christmas swing of things meant watching a host of community youth groups perform to holiday tunes under the Smyrna Park shelter. To others it was getting their children onto Santa's lap for a photo and slip in a gift request. To others, sipping on hot cocoa and conversing with neighbors. But all felt pure Christmas spirit as they strolled Christmas Tree Lane where dazzling Christmas lights and decorations are displayed for the 55th time in Ceres' history.
The chilly 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. During Saturday's festival the streets were closed to vehicular traffic for unimpeded pedestrian strolls down the lane.
Many homeowners were laughing and chatted around small warming fires in their driveways - some eating dinner or drinking beer - as trolley rides were given.
Norbert Pereira, who moved onto Henry Avenue 13 years ago from the Bay Area, set up a plywood display featuring characters from the Grinch movie. Past displays went with a church theme and a Disney theme.
"We get geared up the week before Thanksgiving," said Pereira, who even had lights stretched up his tall backyard palm tree.
Next-door neighbors and Bay Area friends shared in the food and warming fire in the Pereira driveway.
The extra cost of running the lights amounts to about $20, he said.
"It's no big deal. It don't matter, to see all these people coming down here, and they're happy."
Coming home from work on Christmas Tree Lane can be more of a test, he said.
"When I leave work I'm going to come down Wallace and I'll come to my driveway and put my turn signal on and it's like ‘Really?' Help me out here, the turn signal's one. They forget people live here. It's all good."
He said Christmas Tree Lane is dismantled the day after Christmas.
"You'd never know this is Christmas Tree Lane because everything goes down."
Pereira said he likes how the spirit of Christmas Tree Lane has spread to neighboring streets like Caswell and Leslie.
"I think it's awesome."
The city Recreation Department put on the festival which featured the Polar Paint Shop where faces were painted; Rudolph's Sweet Shop where Ceres Senior Citizens Club members handed out cookies and hot cocoa; Santa's Workshop where craft projects were offered; and Frosty's Photo Shop where Santa and Mrs. Claus visited with children while posing for photos.
In the next tent over, volunteers like Angela Mendoza were busy painting the faces of children.
Under the Smyrna Park picnic shelter a number of local groups and schools performed dances or played music for the crowd which turned out for Christmas cheer. Four hundred chairs set out for spectators were all filled. The American Legion Color Guard posted colors. Dance groups from all three junior high schools and both high schools performed as did Ceres Karate, Steps Dance Arts Center and Footnotes Dance Studio.
Ronda Howser, who has been renting a home on Henry for 11 years, said she enjoys participating in Christmas Tree Lane. She said the public has a big misconception that the city pays for the electricity bills of homeowners who participate, but that is not the case. Howser said her electric bill goes up a bit during December and even though TID does not give a discount like some believe, she feels the cost is worth it.