– Gilroy’s 20-year-old practice of lighting the city Christmas
tree downtown will continue to be the tradition of choice.
GILROY – Gilroy’s 20-year-old practice of lighting the city Christmas tree downtown will continue to be the tradition of choice.

The Citywide Christmas Program Committee rendered that decision Wednesday after meeting with Patti Hale, a member of the Bonfante Gardens board of directors who proposed the idea of moving the event to the financially strapped horticultural theme park. Hale said she would likely recommend to her fellow directors that the Dec. 7 to 8 holiday event at Bonfante Gardens be canceled.

“We just thought this was the best thing for the Christmas celebration,” said Marsha Becht, director of membership and programming for the Chamber of Commerce of Gilroy. “We’re just hoping the event is successful again this year and we’re trying to get as many people as we can to come.”

The downtown Christmas tree lighting celebration will be held Dec. 7 on Monterey Street. Upwards of 1,000 people are expected to attend the celebration which has done double duty as a kick-off to Christmas shopping season in Gilroy’s downtown.

Hale said she will meet with her fellow board members Saturday to discuss the park’s Christmas celebration plans.

Originally, Bonfante Gardens slated a six-week run of extravagant holiday-themed light shows from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. But in light of revenue shortfalls that have plagued the theme park since its March 2001 inception, directors decided a large-scale event was too expensive.

On Oct. 3, Bonfante Gardens announced an across-the-board layoff of 50 full-time employees. Soon after, the park decided to hold a trimmed-down holiday celebration the weekend of Dec. 7 and 8, the same date as the Christmas tree lighting downtown.

“The downtown celebration had historically been done the Friday after Thanksgiving, so I didn’t realize at first that we had a conflict,” explained Hale. “I figured it wouldn’t be a conflict though if we combined our efforts.”

Hale was hoping for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony and accompanying festivities to be done at Bonfante Gardens, which she has described as “a spectacular atmosphere” for such an event.

Becht did not go into detail regarding the committee’s decision Wednesday, but last week she noted financial and logistic concerns with moving the tree lighting out of downtown. Becht said then the committee would need to consider the area residents who over the last 20-plus years have grown used to the event being nearby. She said the committee also needed to weigh any concerns from the downtown businesses that stay open for the tree lighting ceremony.

Although the Citywide Christmas Program committee has formally declined the move, Hale said the group was open to having Bonfante Gardens join in on the celebration downtown. The park’s board of directors still must discuss whether to get involved, but Hale said the Citywide Christmas Program was open to having Bonfante Gardens characters and a theme park float in the Dec. 7 parade, among other options.

“We may even be able to bring extra trees to the downtown event,” said Hale. “But we’re still really in the beginning stages of melding something together that can make the entire community happy.”

The parade, known as the “Jolly Walk,” typically follows the tree lighting ceremony. Kids follow Santa Claus and his sleigh to the Chamber of Commerce office where they take pictures with him and get candy canes and hot chocolate.

“Bonfante Gardens can lend a lot of excitement and fun to that with all its characters,” Hale said. “I think our involvement could bring more people to downtown and make this year’s event one of the most well attended.”

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