One of the joys of Christmas is the swath of twinkling lights that transforms homes and whole neighborhoods into wintery fairylands.
In Fresno and Clovis, residents in three iconic neighborhoods give the gift of lights in December, taking countless hours -- and installing miles of lighted strings -- to enchant thousands of oohing and aahing visitors every year.
Each neighborhood has a distinct personality during the holidays -- and different starting dates.
Christmas Tree Lane opens tonight with a pedestrian-only walk night down Van Ness Boulevard, and Candlelight Christmas on Huntington Boulevard kicks off Sunday. Wawona Estates in Clovis got the earliest start by lighting up Wednesday.
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Christmas Tree Lane
Christmas Tree Lane along Van Ness Boulevard between Shields and Shaw avenues, celebrating its 88th year, is the Grandfather Christmas of Fresno's holiday displays.
On most December nights, Christmas Tree Lane is clogged with lines of slow-moving vehicles, but tonight at 6 o'clock is the first of two walk nights. Coordinator Dean Alexander says Christmas Tree Lane is lined with 40 speakers broadcasting Christmas music, twice as many as last year. And the Fig Garden Homeowners Association has replaced more incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient LED lights, with a goal of replacing all of them.
Another new feature is the all-white light display in the front yard of Noah and Adrian Sever's home near Rialto Avenue.
"We just moved in eight weeks ago," Adrian Sever said. "To go to something like this as a kid and now be part of it is very exciting."
Christmas Tree Lane's joyful tradition began on a somber note in 1920, when William and Mae Winning decorated a tree in front of their Pontiac Avenue home in memory of their only child, Billy, 14, who had died in an accident at their home the year before.
Within a few years, other neighbors joined the tradition. The lane has been dark in December only twice since, in 1941 during World War II and during the 1973 energy crisis.
Most residents put up their own yard displays and lighting, augmented by displays made by art classes at Fresno's high schools. The homeowners association collects donations to hang lights across Van Ness and on the tall trees that line the street, a three-month project.
The second walk night on Christmas Tree Lane is Dec. 14. The lane is open through Dec. 26 from 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Traffic is northbound only.
Candlelight Christmas, celebrating its 25th year, takes its name from the old-fashioned streetlights on Huntington Boulevard's grassy median that are decorated to resemble candles.
Candlelight Christmas begins at 6 p.m. Sunday at Huntington Boulevard and Sixth Street, with a countdown to lighting the 93-foot tree in the front yard of the two-story Colonial revival home at Sixth Street that was built by Fresno pioneer Albert Wishon in 1916. A choir of residents will sing Christmas carols.
Most of the 120 stately and historic homes on Huntington from Cedar Avenue to First Street will be decorated this year, said Rudy Bustos, president of the Huntington Boulevard Homeowners Historical Association.
The Candlelight Christmas decor is all-volunteer, Bustos said, with neighbors decorating their own homes and an electrician donating his time to install the "halos" -- golden tinsel wreaths -- that top the streetlights.
"We're slowly starting to update," Bustos said. New wreaths were purchased, as were more LED lights to replace incandescent bulbs.
Santa Claus will hold court in a sleigh parked in the grass median at Fifth Street from 6 to 10 p.m. nightly. As a fundraiser, the Huntington Boulevard Homeowners Association will seek $5 donations for calendars with artwork of Huntington homes. Proceeds will benefit other events the homeowners' association holds throughout the year.
Candlelight Christmas is for pedestrians and vehicles from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily, ending on Dec. 24.
The Christmas display in Wawona Estates northwest of Alluvial and Peach avenues began on Cromwell Avenue more than 15 years ago.
The voluntary display doesn't have an organizer, it doesn't have a catchy name that all the neighbors agree on, and even the traditional Dec. 1 start date is unofficial, resident Mark Keppler said.
"But it spreads some holiday cheer, and it's a good thing for families and the kids," he said.
The Wawona Estates display covers about six blocks. Keppler encourages visitors to park their cars and walk through the neighborhood, to enjoy the lights better. The displays will be lit up each evening through Christmas.
The lights in Jack Sullivan's yard on Bedford Avenue flash and Christmas music flows over a wood-framed yule tree, snowmen, a sleigh, reindeer, elves and a Nativity scene.
"I love it. The traffic is horrendous, but we put up with it," Sullivan said. Besides, he said, the payoff of smiling faces gazing at all the lights -- especially the children's -- is worth it.