Christmas Tree Lane: A Palo Alto holiday tradition that brings people together

Dec. 22, 2021, 8:58 p.m.

For 49 weeks of the year, Fulton Street looks like any other Palo Alto neighborhood. But during the holiday season, the street transforms into Christmas Tree Lane  — rainbow lights drape the rooftops of houses, 10-foot-tall Christmas displays adorn front yards and a total of 72 Christmas trees line the block. 

A favorite among Palo Alto locals, the event lasts from Dec. 11 to Dec. 31. From 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. each day, the street is illuminated with colorful lights and sparkling lawn decorations. Thousands of people come to Christmas Tree Lane each year to see the decorations and make holiday memories, either driving or walking down the 1700 and 1800 blocks of Fulton Street. 

This year marks the 81st year of the tradition — a valued part of the holiday season for the local community. After the COVID-19 pandemic tempered the tradition last year, Christmas Tree Lane has returned this year to a lively atmosphere filled with laughter and cheer.

An outdoor holiday decoration display showing a skier and snowboarder atop a mountain.
Lights and displays decorate the houses that line the 1700 and 1800 blocks of Fulton Street in Palo Alto, Calif. (Image courtesy of Vivien Chen)

“I come here every year,” Palo Alto local Janette Shelby said. “I like the lights. And the people coming out. I like the sense of community and seeing all these happy families.” 

Originally called “Christmas Fairyland Lane,” the tradition began in 1940, when four residents of Fulton Street thought of the idea during a game of bridge. In the tradition’s first year, residents hung electrical wires all throughout the street and lined the sidewalk with Christmas trees. 

The very first decorated house was the home of the Hardy family, adorned with a large Santa Claus display on the chimney. The neighborhood’s decorating efforts produced a beautiful holiday spectacle and a strengthened community. Now, decades later, it is still one of the most beloved holiday traditions in Palo Alto.

“There are some decorations that I’m sort of tired of because they’re the same every year,” Shelby admitted, “But there are some new ones.” Shelby specifically pointed out the small Christmas trees alongside the road as one of her personal favorite features.

A holiday decoration display on the front lawn of a Palo Alto home.
The annual Christmas Tree Lane tradition attracts thousands of people each year. (Courtesy of Vivien Chen)

Aaron Zhang, who drove to Christmas Tree Lane with his family from San Francisco, also said that he enjoys the “family gatherings and positive energy.” 

For some visitors, the tradition can help foster reunions with family and friends. Menlo Park residents Josef and Erica Huber came to Christmas Tree Lane to spend time and reconnect with their daughter who flew in from Spokane, Washington, as well as with Josef’s mother from Austria. 

“It makes you feel festive and connected,” Erica Huber said. “It really brings home the beautiful Christmas season.”

For younger residents like Ellie Rodden, a high school student from Menlo Park, the event can provide lasting memories.

“I came here a lot when I was little,” she said. “I like these traditions because I think that they remind me a lot of my childhood, so they’re very nostalgic.”

Vivien Chen is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Winter Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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