CERES — Fear not, yuletide light-seekers, the Grinch didn't steal Christmas Tree Lane this year, he just postponed it a week.
The Grinch did his dirty work in the form of rain last Saturday, forcing the city of Ceres and homeowners within the region's biggest organized holiday display to move the kickoff and lighting of the neighborhood's lights to today.
"I had the opportunity to walk up and down the streets," Traci Farris, recreation supervisor in the Ceres recreation department, said earlier this week. "It looks great. They always put on a great display."
Nearly all the residents decorate their front yards in lavish illumination each year along the blocks that make up the area's long-standing tradition.
How long-standing? This will be the 51st year that homeowners in the Henry Avenue and Vaughn Street neighborhood have been delighting the valley's spirit-seeking masses. People turn out in cars or on foot nightly each Christmas season to view the lights and take in the holiday glow.
This is the 25th year the city has joined in to kick off the lighting with a festival, Farris said.
The event begins with that festival at 5:30 tonight at Smyrna Park on Moffet Road, where hot chocolate and cookies will be served. There will be face painting, crafts, a place for children to write letters to Santa and photo ops with the big guy and Mrs. Claus. Photos are $2, or free with a canned food donation.
The festival concludes at 7:30, when the party moves to nearby Christmas Tree Lane with a ribbon cutting and the big illumination.
Farris said the streets of Christmas Tree Lane will be closed to traffic tonight only. Instead of driving their cars, patrons can walk the display or hop on a vintage trolley from San Francisco or a tram to be ferried through.
The Central Valley High School band will march the lane, playing carols. "We've never had a parade, per se," Farris said, "but it will have that feel this year."
Organizers haven't had a high school band on site before because the groups typically play the Modesto Celebration of Lights Parade, traditionally held the same day as the Christmas Tree Lane kickoff. Indeed, the Modesto parade also was scheduled last Saturday, but was canceled this year because of the storm.
"It will be a nice addition to our festival," Farris said.
Be ready for a crowd if you head out tonight: Farris said 700 to 800 people generally turn out for the Christmas Tree Lane kickoff.
"We hope people will come out and enjoy a cool evening," she said.
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View 2012 Christmas Lights Map in a larger map