City, Capo Cares team up to return the traditional Capistrano Beach Christmas tree lighting
By Andrea Swayne
Children laughing and playing and neighbors greeting one another while gathered around the twinkling lights of the community Christmas tree sounds like an idyllic scene set in the lyrics of a Christmas carol. But in Capo Beach on Monday it was a played out for the first time in nearly 20 years.
From 1987 through 1998 the holidays in Capistrano Beach were made merrier with the neighborhood’s very own Christmas tree lighting, an event that brought residents together to prepare for the annual celebration and bond in the spirit of the season.
On Monday, Nov. 30, thanks to the grassroots community organization Capo Cares and the city of Dana Point, this lost tradition was renewed, as a crowd of about 75 gathered at the median on Camino de Estrella at Camino Capistrano, one of the official Capo Beach gateways and the site of its official Christmas tree.
The site was once home to the original Capo Beach Christmas tree, donated by the Capistrano Beach Community Association in 1987 and its lighting, along with an annual gathering at Pines Park, where children gathered to paint ornaments for the tree, became a longstanding tradition giving the Dana Point neighborhood a winter event reflecting its own identity and residents.
The event eventually stopped in 1998 as the association began its gradual dissolution.
Capo Beach’s official tree continued to stand tall, sparsely decorated each year without fanfare through April 13, 2012, when a brief but intense storm hit knocking it and a neighboring tree down.
The commemorative monument at its base survived and the city replaced the official tree with a new, young pine in December 2012.
This year, Capo Cares, an organization co-founded by area residents Toni Nelson and Patricia O’Keefe, approached the city about bringing back the tradition and the city responded with a pledge to not only help light the official tree but also the stand of trees along the entire median.
“The city was happy to support the efforts of Capo Cares by providing the lights and installation,” said Kevin Evans, director of community services and parks. “Honestly I’m not sure why we didn’t light the median before. This is such a heavily-traveled street in such a gorgeous area.
Evans made another contribution to the event from the city, a painting of the 1989 Capo Beach tree lighting by local artist Robin Hall, used on the cover of a past city recreation guide. Back then it was a publication of the now defunct Capo Bay Parks and Recreation District, similar to the guide now produced by the city’s Community Services & Parks Division.
Before a child was chosen to flip the switch—by a drawing of names written on slips of paper by dozens of kids and dropped into a fuzzy red and white Santa hat—Evans presented the painting to Capo Cares.
At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Nelson announced that the painting will now be kept at the Dana Point Historical Society Museum and brought out each year for the event.
Upon hearing about the scheduled renewal of the tree lighting, resident and past Capo Beach Community Association member Richard Gardner knew he had a treasure that would make this year’s event even more special and add another historic element—a box full of ornaments created by children for the tree each year at the Pines Park holiday boutique and crafts fair.
Gardner presented the collection of painted wooden ornaments to Ann Romano, also a former association member and now a founding member of Capo Cares. Romano spoke to the crowd Monday, sharing memories of past events and helping Nelson and O’Keefe to kick off the tree lighting.
The name drawn from the hat was that of Jack Tomlinson, son of newly appointed Mayor John Tomlinson, who switched the Christmas tree lights on after a countdown by the crowd and followed by cheers and applause.
The children then set to work adding the old painted wooden ornaments to the tree.
The back of each ornament contains the year and the child who painted it, included the names of many now grown residents still living in the area. Among them were ornaments made by Erin and Mathew Sears, two of the eight children of Dr. Bill Sears (Sears Pediatrics) and his wife Martha.
Although they were not in attendance on Monday, resident and neighbor Hank Thomas caught up with Martha to share the news of her children’s artwork having been found among the ornaments and its recent display on the Capo Beach tree.
The Sears family has been in Capo Beach since 1985, Martha Sears said, and the craft day and gift boutique once held at Pines Park before each year’s tree lighting was a highlight of her family’s holiday season.
“We loved the crafts at Pines Park each year and each year we’d troop our family down the street to enjoy the petting zoo, the ornament decorating, hot apple cider and a gift boutique where you could buy a few gifts from the 20 or so exhibitors showing their work.” Sears said. “Our park was transformed into a wintry scene, and since we really don’t get to have a real winter here it was always a nice way to get into Christmas spirit. We looked forward to it all year.”
Nelson gave credit and kudos to Evans and Brian McClure, parks manager, for helping to take the event from idea to reality.
“They really outdid themselves,” Nelson said. “We reinstated a tradition that hasn’t occurred in Capo Beach for nearly 20 years. It was Kevin’s (Evans) suggestion that we commemorate the lighting by bringing back this low-key community event. It was a great success and exceeded our expectations.”
Due to the popularity of the event—and the expectation of an even larger crowd next year—along with feedback from the community, Capo Cares is looking at the possibility of moving the event to Pines Park next year and bringing back some of the other festivities that used to happen there, Nelson said.