New Musical Exhibit Welcomes Visitors to San Jose’s 33-Year-Old Holiday Tradition

Visitors to San Jose’s Christmas in the Park may walk away singing, “and a partridge in a pear tree,” or at least thinking it.

Exhibit designer Tom Trafton in front of new exhibit.

San Jose’s downtown tradition of holiday displays and decorated trees officially opened Friday, November 23, with the annual tree lighting and a new musical, animated “Twelve Days of Christmas” display at the north end of Plaza de Cesar Chavez. It replaces the aging “Nutcracker Suite” exhibit.

“I always wanted to do the Twelve Days of Christmas,” said Tom Trafton, the man behind the 60-plus displays. “It’s one of those things that sticks in your head.”

Exhibit designer Trafton has been with the 33-year-old Christmas in the Park since its beginning, but he quickly gives credit to board members who give him ideas and the hundreds of volunteers who help him with everything from mixing bubble juice to building displays to sewing new costumes for the characters.

Planning for Christmas in the Park is a year-round task. Building the holiday village began on October 31, with Trafton leading staff members and volunteers, who put in an estimated 260,000 hours of work. Christmas in the Park will run through January 1.

The 60-foot Community Giving Tree is i the center of the park.

This year, lighting of the 60-foot-high Community Giving Tree was assisted by Olympic skater Kristi Yamaguchi and Santa Claus, who arrived in a giant sleigh on Market Street after opening the nearby downtown ice rink. Yamaguchi and Santa “plugged in” the lights as visitors counted down

Kristi Yamaguchi and Santa “plug in” the lights.

from 10.

Visitors who stroll around the park also might notice that the choir members in one display have new robes and freshly painted faces, and that Santa is getting measured for a new suit in the Hat and Dress Shop. He’s a new character in that display this year.

But visitors might not know that the 15-year-old Lima Family Train has been completely rebuilt, with parts made in Oakland an a the San Jose Foundry, Trafton said.

“It kind of fell apart all at once,” Trafton said. “Everything went wrong.”

The Parachuting Penguins exhibit was delayed in opening because the penguins were stolen, the first time a major theft has occurred at the park, Trafton said. But new penguins have arrived and will be installed and flying in circles again.

Santa is fitted for his suit.

In between exhibits are more than 400 trees purchased decorated by community organizations, non-profit groups, schools and businesses.

An online map is new to help visitors find their favorite exhibit, and coming soon is an app to provide information to smart phone users.

Also new this year is Breakfast with Santa from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, December 1, at the Fairmont Hotel’s Club Regent Ballroom. Guests will be provided a buffet breakfast, entertainment and a chance to have pictures taken with Santa. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for children age 11 and under.

Santa also will be at his usual spot in the park to talk to children and provide a photo opp for those bringing cameras.

The city has officially certified Christmas in the Park as a Zero Waste Event, with its energy-efficient LED lights that replaced power-eating holiday lights. Plates, cups and utensils provided by vendors are also recyclable.

The tradition, which brings 450,000 visitors to Downtown San Jose, began in the 1950s with a single Nativity display built by Don Lima in front of the Lima Family Mortuary in Willow Glen. As the displays grew, so did the crowds, and Lima decided to donate the holiday exhibits to the city. They were first displayed at First and Mission and what was then City Hall. They were moved to Plaza de Cesar Chavez in the 1980s.

Christmas in the Park is a non-profit organization supported through fundraising efforts by a volunteer board of directors. This year marks a transition for the organization as it moves from a city-supported venue to a self-sustaining non-profit. The city is still supporting the event as an in-kind sponsor. Donations and sponsorships from the community made the event possible this year, Trafton said.

“The corporations really stepped up,” he said.

Downtown Ice skating rink and Christmas in the Park will also benefit form this year’s inaugural Santa Run, a 5-K run/walk that begins at 4 p.m. on Sunday, December 16, at San Fernando Street and Almaden Avenue. Participants are encouraged to dress up like their favorite holiday character or symbol.