For years the citizens of San Jose enjoyed the season Christmas display that stood in joyful splendor on Willow Street and later graced the lawns of City Hall. More recently the City Plaza Park in the heart of downtown has been its home.
The display originated in the mind of Don Lima; with $300 in borrowed funds, it burgeoned from a modest beginning in front of mortuary to a spectacular extravaganza that tens of thousands trooped to view. The city and the downtown were part of a very special event each Christmastide; it was one of the more successful municipal ventures and was widely heralded.
But, alas, other forces came into play. The city council’s priorities precluded its staging in 1978, deeming it a pleasant, but indefensible expenditure in a time of fiscal restraints. Unfortunately, the decision did not leave enough time for private sources to attempt the job.
In 1979 a spirited attempt was made to resuscitate the event. Money was raised downtown with the help of the ever-faithful Don Goldeen, and the commitments of donated labor from private companies received. After a one-year hiatus, the children would again return to downtown to see elves and reindeer, shepherds and wisemen. Laughter and the “ohs” and “ahs” would replace the silence.
This, however, was not to be. A city union leader, thinking that the privately donated labor was usurping the role of his people, effectively scuttled that, while a Parks and Recreation Department supervisor neglected to provide for the artificial snow. Without snow, the entire project was deemed impossible.
Is this the end of the Christmas display in San Jose? Knowing full well that we would face problems as grave as the “snow gap” and as fundamental as the separation of church and state, it still seems we might select a commision of 12 citizens to begin the task of restoring this event to our city. The event could begin at Thanksgiving and last until the Epiphany, Jan 6.
Many could be called and many chosen. It could include and coordinate a variety of events over the period, such as a performance of the “Nutcracker Ballet,” Hande’s “Messiah,” the Symphony choir, school plays, and professional acting groups. It could utilize the splendor of the eclectic edifices that surround the park: St. Joseph’s, the Civic Gallery, the Civic Auditorium, the Bank of America and many others.
The aid of other businesses might be invoked both materially and ethereally. The Metro A Trust Fund has grasped the idea and pledged $30,000; others will follow.
We are not dealing only with a Christmas display, but with something much more basic to San Jose – a respect and continuity with our past, a zeal for the future, an acknowledgment of what we are.
There is something tranquil about Christmas, something we all feel that goes beyond elves and toys, that runs to the basic kindness and decency in all of us. This is particularly true in a city that has become the home for so many dissimilar people and given sanctuary to so many in need.
It is a spark that must be nurtured.