Christmas Tree Lane turns on lights Dec. 17

Annual Palo Alto tradition kicks off 76th season on Saturday, Dec. 17

Wooden Smurfs caroling on a front lawn as the Seven Dwarfs playfully slide down a nearby roof under the careful watch of a pair of giant holiday teddy bears peering out from a living room window -- these sights may not be as synonymous with Christmas as snowball fights and sleigh rides, unless you're in Palo Alto.

For two weeks every December since 1940 (excluding one year during World War II), residents along Fulton Street have transformed the 1700 and 1800 blocks into an illuminated, holiday display known as Christmas Tree Lane.

The display, which has attracted thousands of spectators over the years, has made national headlines, earned awards and has even inspired local school children to write a Christmas carol about it.

This holiday season, the street will be illuminated from 5 - 11 p.m., Dec. 17 through Dec. 31.

"The really special thing about Christmas Tree Lane is not the decorations but the cooperative, friendly neighborly manner in which folks come together to make it happen," said neighborhood chairwoman Susan McDonnell. "It makes our street a wonderful neighborhood."

This homegrown tradition began 76 years ago when Palo Alto Judge Edward Hardy and his neighbors got together and put out 54 lighted Douglas firs in front of their houses along the street one rainy December day "to promote Christmas joy," according to an announcement from the neighborhood Committee of 1940.

In a December 1940 article, the Palo Alto Times described the inaugural event as "An unforgettable memory of Christmas. ... It's even worth hiring a taxi or borrowing Johnny's bicycle or even walking there."

The community has continued to embrace the tradition generation after generation.

In subsequent years, the paper provided annual updates on the status of various displays like the Seven Dwarfs, who were absent one year for maintenance, or the introduction of a wooden Santa climbing a chimney with a stuffed bag on his back.

And when vandals destroyed several light bulbs, the paper reported that a group of teens raised money to replace them.

Today, the display includes gingerbread men, toy trains, inflatable Santas and other holiday-themed décor that has been passed down from one homeowner to the next, including a giant handmade snowman that had to be lowered out of the second-story window onto the lawn because it couldn't fit out the door.

"This is a great tradition," McDonnell said.

If you go...

For safety reasons, parking is not allowed on Fulton Street during Christmas Tree Lane.

Residents prefer that visitors walk down the lane and that those who prefer to drive exercise extra care, use their parking lights and look out for youngsters and families crossing the street.

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