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Caramillo’s Christmas light tradition lives on 

SemiNative

‘Oh, I think this is the Christmas street,” Edie Carey recalls her real-estate agent saying as they drove up to what is now her house on Caramillo Street.

Tucked between Wahsatch Avenue and Weber Street, the residents along Caramillo don’t just light their own homes for the holidays, they string lights across the narrow street from tree to tree. The block is illuminated as cars drive through what feels like a Christmas tunnel. The charm is in the haphazard appearance — it’s got that Charlie Brown Christmas tree appeal.

After some of our city’s iconic Christmas displays retired — I really miss the towering twin trees near Monument Valley Park that were simple but stunning and the Knulls’ elaborate display of animated dolls on Dale Street — I’m thankful this Christmas block lives on.

It’s a tight-knit block, quite literally as it breaks from the grid of wide streets that run through the Old North End and Patty Jewett neighborhoods. It’s narrow, single-lane narrow when cars are parked along the curb on both sides, and about 20 feet askew from the rest of Caramillo.

I watched as a few of the houses on the block came up for sale in the last year. (Yes, my TV is usually tuned into HGTV, how did you know?) I wondered if the new residents on this East Caramillo Street block knew what they were getting into when they purchased their homes.

Living on a block that’s known for its Christmas lights and attracts admirers from all over the city might not be for everyone. But Carey says she feels like they won the house and neighborhood lottery.

“This street has such a cohesive, open and warm-hearted feel,” says Carey, who spent about a year living on the Westside after moving from Chicago. “I feel like we’re living on a movie set.”
Jill Murray has lived on the block for about five years. She isn’t sure how long the community lighting has been going on, however it predates her move. The block doesn’t exactly have a ringleader in the lighting efforts, but Murray and her husband are now the keepers of the lights during the off-season. She says her husband keeps them labeled and
organized in their basement.

Murray lived on Mesa Avenue but came to Caramillo because she wanted more sense of community. Murray recalls her husband was reading a column in the Gazette about the Christmas lights, when he pointed at the article and said, “This is where I want to live.” He got his wish, as one of Murray’s friends was selling a house on the block.

Murray says the neighbors used to use a ladder to hang the lights. But that became a harrowing experience, so instead they all chip in to rent a hydraulic lift to put the lights up and take them down.

As you would expect, traffic spikes on the street once the lights are hung. Murray estimates at least 100 cars a night on the weekends. Carey says overall she’s been surprised how often people drive down the narrow block — but with Del Norte Street blocked near Steele Elementary,
Caramillo picks up some of the east-west traffic all year long.

Last Christmas, one of the big trees on the block came down in the wind storm. Neighbors worried that losing the tree would result in too big a gap in the lights. Having driven down the block more than once this year already, I can attest that unless you knew about the lost tree, you probably wouldn’t notice it.

Some of that might be attributed to Carey’s husband, Matthew Fitzsimmons, who is a planner with the city. It just so happens his sister runs a holiday lighting company in Chicago. She’s sent extra lights his way and Carey says he’s going all out and he’s encouraging all the neighbors to do the same.

Carey says she looks forward to dusk every night now when the lights come on. “I’m going to be really sad,” she says, “when Christmas is over.”

The neighbors join together for Cookie Night each year — they light bonfires in their front yards and hand out cookies to passersby. If you’d like a cookie to go with your light viewing, Cookie Night is Saturday, Dec. 16.

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