Danville Express

Living - December 7, 2007

Presenting the Past: Trees bedecked with lights - then and now

by Beverly Lane

For 30 years, Valley residents have been lighting trees and enjoying special ceremonies to herald the holiday season. The Danville Oak, a special oak tree in Alamo and a large pine tree in San Ramon's Central Park have been sites for these annual celebrations.

The Danville Oak celebration began in 1976 after Diablo Road was widened to four lanes. Representatives of the Old Town Guild put lights on the tree, with volunteer Ken Preston tackling the lighting, and local artist Carmine DeVivi presiding over the ceremony as Father Christmas on the Friday after Thanksgiving. About 300 people came to the first lighting. For years the event began at the Danville Hotel, with opening ceremonies on Hartz Avenue. People lit candles, sang carols and walked to the tree. When crowds began to number in the thousands, the party took its current form. The event begins at the Danville Oak, streets are closed to traffic, and families stroll through Old Town afterward for music and refreshments.

In 2003 DeVivi donated his original outfit (red velvet trimmed in mink, keys, a special wreath and bells) to the Museum of the San Ramon Valley where it is on display. He wrote about the genesis of the Danville Oak Tree Lighting:

"I recall my first impression of the old oak tree. It was obviously on its way to a slow death due to debris piled high over its crown during the re-paving of Diablo Road. My plan of action was to get some help to remove the debris which was necessary so that the tree could breathe and live. I solicited girl scouts and boy scouts form Alamo to assist me in removing this debris, only to discover huge chunks of black top asphalt, stones, pieces of wood etc., causing a slow suffocation of the root systems.

"To call attention to the old oak tree and its preservation, I proposed at an Old Town Guild meeting, that we as merchants could light the tree with as many lights as we were able to afford. This procedure would not only give the town a new symbol for the holiday season but throughout the year as well, especially because the lighting would call attention to the tree and its preservation.

"The idea was unanimously approved by the membership. At the next meeting I also proposed that a ceremony with Father Christmas lighting the tree would inaugurate the holiday season for the community at large. My reason for having Father Christmas was because traditionally he was non-sectarian as a symbol and an image portrayed for everyone. It was suggested that I might portray Father Christmas at our first tree lighting. I agreed to do this for the first event - as you know I continued to perform the tree lighting ceremony for the residents of Danville for 15 years. Each of those 15 years, one better than the other, were events to be cherished and memorable."

The year after San Ramon incorporated, 1984, the city sponsored a holiday oak tree lighting at the corner of Twin Creeks and Crow Canyon Roads, then moved the party and lit a large pine tree at the new San Ramon Central Park. Today Bishop Ranch Business Park provides the Bishop Ranch Tree Lighting as a gift to the community. There are food booths, choirs, Santa in a sleigh and a tree lighting, enjoyed by thousands of celebrants.

In Alamo a holiday oak tree lighting began in 1986, using a heritage tree behind the northwest corner of Danville Boulevard and Stone Valley Road. That tree once graced the historic Alamo Grammar School yard. Claudia Nemir and Ken Preston placed the lights and promoted the first lighting. Hundreds of families came each year for the event.

Since 2003, a heritage oak in Alamo's Andrew H. Young Park at Danville Boulevard and Jackson Way has been lit to initiate the season for the Alamo community. This popular event is coordinated by the Alamo Merchant and Professional Association. In 2007 there was holiday music, Santa Claus and toys contributed for the Sheriff's toy drive.

Let the festivities begin!

This is an update of last year's column about the tree lightings. Beverly Lane, a longtime Danville resident, is curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon."


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