An Unwavering Reedley Christmas Tree Tradition

Dec 12, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Jim Mulligan, Reedley News

by Jim Mulligan

Holiday traditions around Reedley are many and varied: from tamales to turkey dinners, house decorating to cookie baking, caroling to care package giving, and so many more. One tradition that hasn’t faltered in our quaint little town is the display of our community Christmas tree. Even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the custom continues. By most accounts, the city has displayed a community tree since before 1920, and for most of those years it has been right downtown, smack in the middle of G Street, serving as a beacon of light and cheer in the heart of our little town. Folks probably take a gander at the tree each year without understanding the monumental effort it takes to provide the yuletide adornment for our town. Especially this year, we should all be thankful we even have a tree, and appreciate all the work that goes into the display.

An early city Christmas tree in Reedley, circa 1920. (photo courtesy of the Reedley Historical Society)

Where does one shop for a 40-foot tall tree? The forest, of course. The Southern California Edison electric company owns and manages many acres of forest land not far up the hill from Reedley. As a part of their forest management plan, they have donated large trees for city Christmas displays for many years. Reedley College has also been a big part of Christmas tree procurement for a long time. Their Forestry Club, made up of Forestry and Natural Resources students, has long been an integral part of the harvesting process. Reedley College students do the work of securing the tree each year to a crane, do the cutting, and gently maneuver the tree from a vertical to horizontal position onto a truck for the slow drive from the Sierra mountains to Reedley. Louie Long, Reedley College instructor and Forestry Club advisor, explains, “This whole process is really a lot of work, but has many benefits. The White Fir that was marked for harvest was chosen because it was growing close to other trees. By thinning, or taking out a few trees, the other trees in the area can thrive. It’s good forest management.”

The 2020 city tree, a White Fir, still firmly in the ground near Shaver Lake, just before it was cut.

While the city foots the bill for some of the transport and decoration of the tree, the Greater Reedley Chamber of Commerce, namely mostly Erik Valencia, Executive Director of the Chamber, puts in some time to help make the final selection and helps coordinate the efforts of everyone involved. This year, Valencia, his mother, and former Reedley Citizen of the Year Danny Jimenez formed the delegation that met the Reedley College students near Shaver Lake to make the final selection of the tree. Valencia then had the task of making sure everyone would be at the delivery site to offload and install the tree. He said, “I was a little frazzled yesterday [the day the tree was delivered] … there are about four different groups to coordinate with to make sure everyone is in place at the right time. We don’t want anyone just waiting around.”

After the downhill journey, the tree arrives in Reedley where a crew from the City of Reedley Streets Department and another crane awaits. Sam Jorgenson Pump Company of Reedley has donated the use of their crane to offload and place the tree for many years. The expertise of the crane operator allows him to nimbly situate the tree into position so the Streets crew can secure it in place. This is yet another example of coordination and teamwork, a herculean effort, all for the joy of the citizens of Reedley.

The 2020 tree being offloaded from the delivery truck and placed in the new tree stand by Jorgenson Pump Co.

Selection, transport, and delivery of the tree is just half of the story. No less than eight city employees spend more than a full day safely securing and then adorning the tree with its 2,000-plus lights and dangling ornaments. When asked what kind of Christmas tree-decorating-training he and his coworkers receive, Streets Department employee Abel Murillo said, “Well, not too much training for decoration. We’re typically pretty good at knocking trees down, not installing them. But it’s just a lot of the safety precautions that we take. We want to be safe.” Murillo and the Streets Department crew use two bucket trucks with a reach of 40 feet to artfully place the lights and decorations, despite no formal beautification training.

City employees, Michael Alvarez (on ladder) and Abel Murillo, putting the final touches on decorations for the 2020 tree.

Of course, as many have likely noticed, this year the location of the tree is not in the middle of G Street. The new location is centrally located along G Street in Pioneer Park, almost directly across from the police station. Early in November, the Streets Department crew created a permanent concrete pad, with a manhole-covered excavation, for the express purpose of Christmas tree display. But why such a drastic change to this long tradition? Many factors, many most of which boil down to the domino effect that begins with COVID, contributed to the decision. Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba explained, “Moving the location of the tree allowed us to keep another tradition, the Christmas parade, which this year was a reverse parade. We hope by decorating the tree in the park and decorating the park itself, it will become a festive Christmas location where people can bring their families. For the first time, people will actually be able to have their families take a picture with the tree.”

City employees L-R, Michael Alvarez, Sergey Yanovsky, Nicolas Elizondo, and Abel Murillo, pose in front of the newly decorated 2020 tree. City employees that helped with installation but not pictured include: James Montford, Carlos Martinez, Juan Heredia, and Eddie Andrade.

Change of location notwithstanding, the community Christmas tree is a testament to the Christmas spirit at many levels. Without the donations of time and equipment, and without the skills of college students and city employees, and without the grit and determination of everyone working together, there would be no tree. As you drive by or visit this year and peek at the evergreen monolith festooned and shining brightly, remember to pay homage to the Earth that nurtured it for many years, to the wisdom that led to its selection, and to the mutual efforts that brought it to represent the spirit of the season.

Be sure to check out more Reedley articles in our Reedley category.

Jim Mulligan is a 6th generation Californian, born and raised in Selma. He has been employed in Reedley on and off for the last twenty years. He married his college sweetheart, a Reedley-ite, Kristi. They now reside in Reedley with their five children. Jim loves to create Bonsai and travel as much as possible, both near and far. He is a member of the KCUSD Board of Trustees and is employed by Reedley College as the Tutorial Coordinator.


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