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Festival kicks off holiday season
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Mark White proudly decorated his Henry Avenue yard with cutouts of Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid in his National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie theme. During the night he also played sound bites from the movie over a stereo system. - photo by Jeff Benziger

It was beginning to look like rain might threaten the Ceres Christmas Festival and parade into Christmas Tree Lane on Saturday evening but Santa arrived on time and the city went ahead with a community party.

Attendance was slightly down, estimated Cambria Pollinger, the city’s Recreation Supervisor, on account of the cold and drizzle. But that didn’t keep hundreds from showing up at 5:30 p.m. to Smyrna Park to enjoy a number of activities under the picnic shelter. There Stephanie Burns arrived an hour early to be the first in line for photos with Santa – a tradition she has enjoyed for 17 years with daughter Viviana. This year Stephanie was there with granddaughter Cali Miller of Modesto. Burns said she typically kills the hour by reading a book or doing homework.

Inside Santa’s tent, Chuck Pederson remarked on his past experiences playing Santa.

“There’s a Santa patient confidentiality. I don’t usually share what they whisper in my ear but I have had some pretty funny kids,” said Pederson. “They ask for oddball things.”

Members of the Ceres Senior Citizens Club distributed an estimated 60 dozen cookies as well as cups of hot cocoa.

Santa Claus’ first visitors at the Ceres Christmas Festival were a group brought by Stephanie Burns (back left). She brought daughter Viviana Burns (seated next to Santa), granddaughter Cali Miller (seated on lap), David Burns (wearing cowboy hat) and Jessica Lafferty (standing behind Santa) and James Brunn (back right). Santa was played by Chuck Pederson. - photo by Jeff Benziger

“I love waiting on these people,” said club President Betty Khan.

Members of the Central Valley High School Interact Club were on hand to oversee the letters to Santa exhibit and to paint the faces of youngsters with holiday characters and art.

A quarter to 8 p.m. the parade started at Smyrna Park, featuring the marching bands of Central Valley and Ceres High schools. The parade made its way down Henry Avenue and Vaughn Street, decorated as Christmas Tree Lane for the 57th time. The tradition started in December 1961. Also in the parade were dance groups from local studios and Blaker Kinser Junior High, Ceres Diamonds cheerleaders, the Ceres Police Department SWAT truck, an antique Ceres fire truck and dignitaries and Christmas Tree Lane homeowners riding on flat bed trailers and an antique San Francisco trolley car owned by Shane Parson.

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Ceres Senior Citizens Club President Betty Khan hands cookies and hot cocoa to a youngster who turned out for Saturday evening’s Ceres Christmas Festival held at Smyrna Park. - photo by Jeff Benziger

A number of homeowners on Christmas Tree Lane celebrated the night with warming fires and food – some of which was being sold.

One of the more unusual displays is the yard of Mark White who moved to Christmas Tree Lane three years ago. He decided this year to decorate his yard in the theme of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, a film starring Chevy Chase. As Bing Crosby’s “Mele Kalikimaka” played from the open garage, White explained that the 1989 film is one of his favorite holiday movies.

“Last year we had the Hawaiian Santa with the hula dancing Santa out here and decided to change it up a bit out here,” said White.

He purchased the life-sized cutout of Clark W. Griswold from Amazon and waterproofed it with Rustoleum. He made the Cousin Eddie cutout.

White’s yard featured a blow-up car with a tree sitting atop it.

While it can be a bit of a hassle living on Christmas Tree Lane, White says it’s only for a month.

“It would be nice if the city did a little more. They put out some trash cans and that’s pretty much it. Usually we’re out picking up garbage as it is. We don’t do it for us – we do it for the little kids running around.”

The Mariposa native finds that the festive display of Christmas lights adds about $30 to $40 to the December electric bill but he doesn’t mind for the joy it brings.

He said everyone living on the street is “so close.” White said a number of older neighbors have passed away since he moved in yet the tradition of decorating yards and stringing up lights continues with the next generation

“You don’t have to but you don’t want to be that house,” said White. “And it’s fun doing it. I always wanted to be like Clark Griswold. I’ve always said if I do it I’m going to do it so big and I did this year.”

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Janelle Gonzales of Ceres (left) gets her face painted by Central Valley High School Interact Club member Virginia Moore. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Like the iconic movie character, White said he had 20 boxes of lights remaining to staple onto the roof.

For those who want to experience Christmas Tree Lane more than once, the display is offered through until Christmas and some nights afterward.

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Valentina Alvaro wrote a letter to Santa at the Christmas Festival and slipped it into a special North Pole mailbox. - photo by Jeff Benziger