Seventy-five years ago, the residents of Fulton Street set out Christmas trees along the street and strung up lights from the 1500 block to the 1700 block. When the lights came on, one of the city's oldest traditions was born: Christmas Tree Lane.
Every year, Fulton Street lights up with a set of trees and house decorations that glow for about a week before and after Christmas. Some display traditional Christian decorations, others celebrate a Jewish heritage while some remain secular in nature. Visitors come from all over the city and beyond to observe the spectacle.
Homeowners have kept the ritual alive year after year, halting only for conservation efforts during World War II. The street's residents organize themselves into a committee that delegates the various responsibilities that go into getting the street ready for the holidays. People take turns handling each task from year to year, and each year, the whole street lights up.
This year's chairperson, Susan McDonnell, said that it's a large group effort to get everything going, but it always gets done because the residents are really passionate about the tradition.
"We have someone get the 'No Parking' signs from the city; we have someone that ensures the city lights change from white to red; someone organizes the coffee we have each year for all of the neighbors on the day we out up the decorations. It's really a great way to bring the neighborhood together," she said.
All of the houses seem to participate, and she said that they even expanded Christmas Tree Lane by a few houses this year.
"I think it's sort of understood that you're getting into this when you move here," she said.
Larry Christensen moved to Fulton Street in 1980, and he was caught off guard.
"We had no idea when we bought the house," he said. "Everyone just gets drawn up into the holiday season, the lights and decorations."
Traditionally, when a new family moves in, the one that is leaving passes on a set of old-fashioned Christmas lights so that the holiday festivities can continue, McDonnell said. The committee also sends around a flier to prepare the neighbors for the decorating. Some homes simply string up Christmas lights, while others have a theme. Themes vary from the nativity scene to the Nutcracker. Others, such as McDonnell's neighbors, use the displays to promote something like a literacy campaign.
"My neighbor has replicated pages of 'The Night Before Christmas,'" she said. "She's the founder of an organization called Bring Me A Book, so it's very fitting that her display features a book."
This year, Christmas Tree Lane lights up on Dec. 12. The displays turn on at 5 p.m., and there's guaranteed to be a parade of onlookers driving through the street.
What: Christmas Tree Lane
Date: Saturday, Dec. 12 through Dec. 31
Time: 5-11 p.m. each night
Where: Fulton Street, Palo Alto (1705 Fulton St. works as a destination address)