The Christmas holiday spirit was in generous abundance Saturday when the community gathered for the Ceres Christmas Festival in Smyrna Park.
For many, getting into the Christmas swing of things meant watching a host of community youth groups performed to holiday tunes under the Smyrna Park shelter. To others it was getting in a photo with Santa and Mrs. Claus. 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.
The very cold 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. On Saturday the streets were closed down to vehicular traffic for unimpeded pedestrian strolls down the lane.
Many homeowners laughed and chatted around small warming fires as horse-drawn trolley rides supplied moved down the lane to the sound of clopping hooves.
Visitors were treated to one yard on the corner of Moffet Road and Henry Avenue where two truckloads of snow from Groveland were brought in. It was a holiday idea pulled off by tenants Brent, Lucas and Derrick Avila, Abraham Navarro and Michael Guzenhauser.
"We keep hearing kids say they never saw snow before," said Brent Avila, who was policing the throwing of snowballs from his yard. His friend, Josh Loveland, agreed saying, "I heard it at least 10 times and it's only been a half-hour."
Ronda Howser, who has been renting a home on Henry for eight years, said she enjoys participating in Christmas Tree Lane.
"I love it," said Howser. "The first few years it's kind of a hassle until you get to kind of get to know the culture of it and everything."
Last year Howser experienced a rash of acts of vandalism and thefts off the front porch.
"I think the biggest misconception to people is that we get a discount in our TID bills because I do not. I wish I did. My electric bill does go up a little bit during these months but to me it's worth it."
Besides lighting up her roof and yard, Howser likes to put out hot cocoa or cider out for visitors and collect canned food items from the public.
At Smyrna Park, a long line of parents holding children or pushing strollers formed for the first tent where Santa and Mrs. Claus posed for photos. Councilman Ken Lane and wife Yvette portrayed the famous North Pole. Hundreds of children got to pose with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Under shelter, Councilman Mike Kline emceed the festivities as hundreds watched local groups perform holiday dance routine and martial arts demonstrations.
Students from both Mae Hensley and Blaker Kinser, Cesar Chavez junior high schools, and Ceres and Central Valley high schools performed as did those from Footnotes and Steps Arts Center dance studios and Edwards Black Belt Academy. Many of the youngsters who performed are participants of the city's recreation program.
All 400 chairs set up under the shelter were taken with throngs of people standing behind them and throughout the parking lot.
The city had four booths at the event. One 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. Another was Rudolph's Sweet Shop which allows members of the Ceres Senior Citizens Club to hand out cookies and liquid refreshments. Children got artsy inside the "Polar Paint Shop" while Santa and Mrs. Claus were nestled inside "Frosty's Photo Shop."
After the ribbon was cut to officially open Christmas Tree Lane, members of the Central Valley High School band played and marched down the lane.