Christmas light displays feel like a holiday tradition as old as, say, caroling or exchanging gifts. But the practice is actually quite young, which makes sense considering electricity wasn’t available to the public until 1881. However, one town claims to have started the trend of large-scale holiday lights displays back in 1920.
In 1920, a man by the name of Frederick C. Nash sought the help of The Pasadena Kiwanis Club and the City of Pasadena in lighting the trees of a quarter-mile section of roadway in Altadena. Known as Avenue of the Deodars at the time, the lighting of the road expanded over the next few years until the entire row of about 150 trees were lit up for the holiday season.
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At some point, the road was renamed Santa Rosa Avenue, but it is popularly known as “Christmas Tree Lane,” a nickname that may have first been used by postcards that labeled it as such shortly following World War II.
The festive town, located just outside of Los Angeles, claims that this was the first large-scale Christmas lights display, and the state of California does acknowledge that it’s the oldest such display in the southern part of the state. The spot’s significance led to Christmas Tree Lane being named a California State Landmark and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
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Today, the giant deodar cedar trees of Altadena’s Christmas Tree Lane are decorated with more than 10,000 lightbulbs, a laborious task that takes 10 weeks to complete — and 10 weeks to reverse. The Christmas Tree Lane Association (CTLA), a non-profit group of volunteers, has taken charge of the tradition since 1956, with volunteers decorating and taking down the lights, as well as maintaining the trees and fixing the decorations through the spring and fall. All that work is definitely worth it, however, as every holiday season, Altadena is among the most amazing Christmas light displays in the country.