A shot across the street from our place, looking north on Holly toward and beyond Buena Avenue. A capsule summary: the lights seemed to stretch farther than ever tonight, and neighbors to the east of us shut down a block and had a communal dinner in the middle of the street. Lots of people were out walking, and lots of the walkers stopped by the table in front of our place for cider and baked stuff and stayed to talk. A special night. And a special day to come for all, I hope. Merry Christmas.
Our night-before-Xmas luminaria extravaganza has been going on since 1992. In the 16 Christmas Eves during that run, we had one almost-rainout, in 2003. Another year, the wind was blowing so hard that we doubted at first that we could get the candles lit. But both times we managed to set the lights out.
The forecast for the past week has been pointing to rain today and tonight. The only variation in the predictions has been just how much rain and wind and when the storm would peak. And sure enough, it spit down drizzle all day, just enough so that we decided to postpone our luminaria till next week, New Year’s Eve.
The drizzle almost quit completely just after dark, and many blocks around us put out their luminaria despite the sogginess. But the rain has been just heavy enough to turn all those bags into sodden little heaps and to put out most of the candles. And in the last hour, the hour we’d usually be placing all the bags and candles on our street and lighting them up, the showers increased.
It’s official — a rainout.
It will be hours before the luminaria are out on the street, but for the first time in a long, long time, I don’t think I’ll be around for the set-up; I’m working in the KQED newsroom this afternoon, and working in the newsroom means you get out when you get out (though one hopes it will be earlier than the 9 p.m. formal end of the shift). Here’s a bundle of my luminaria posts from previous years:
Here’s what it looked like last night on our street and some of the streets in our neighborhood. If you added up all the blocks that are putting out luminaria around us now, there are miles of streets lined with the lights. My impression from doing a late-night tour was that there was one major expansion–a one-third mile stretch of Curtis Street, to the west of us. Later, I’ll post a map of what we saw last night. For now, here are some pictures I took on Holly Street and surrounding blocks.
The epicenter of the neighborhood luminaria fest that started on Holly Street in the early ’90s has moved to the corner of California and Buena. A woman up there–Betsy, don’t know her last name–started organizing her block around ’98 or ’99. Other blocks followed, usually organized by people Betsy knows, until now there are 30 or 40 blocks involved.
Anyway, the California Street tradition is a little different from ours just a block to the west. The folks get together in the mid-afternoon, fold bags and put them out on the street. In fact, almost all the blocks except ours on Holly are done and ready to light by sundown. Last year, in fact, people were coming by our street and asking if we did the luminaria any more. Anyway–very cool to see the activity spread to all the places it has.
(Picture above is the luminaria get-together in front of Betsy’s; picture below looks up California to Rose from Buena.)
Last Christmas, I printed out a topographic map from a piece of software I have and traced out a map of the North Berkeley luminaria neighborhoods; I used different color inks to show the various years different blocks joined in. It’s not a presentation that translates to a digital format, so I’ve been thinking about how to do a map I could put online this year. There’s got to be something a semi-literate hack like myself can use to make a beautiful souvenir luminaria map; while I have faith that such a product exists, I haven’t found it yet. So back to the drawing board.
The map above is from the same software, Topo, that I used for my printouts last year. The streets that do the luminaria are traced in red using the software’s route tool. The big drawback to using the USGS maps for this purpose is that few streets are labeled. The resulting maps only make sense if you have an idea what you’re looking at to begin with.
My second option was to figure out how to present the luminaria using Google Maps. The maps are clear and easy to use and users can toggle back and forth between a regular street map and satellite pictures, or view a hybrid version. But making a Google Map from scratch using the available development tool would require more time to waste than even I have. So I decided to try to use an already-existing tool, the excellent Gmaps Pedometer, to trace out the luminaria street. As with the Topo versiion, that requires a lot of retracing to include every one of the contiguous blocks. But the result is pretty clear and you have the advantages of zooming in or out on the resulting map, and you have a very clear idea of what street is what. (Holly is in the northwest corner of the outlined luminaria streets). The biggest drawback is that the Pedometer doesn’t let you stop tracing in one spot and begin again in an unconnected spot. That means that I’ve left out several streets (shown in red on at the top of the Topo map above). This Gmaps tool also lacks any capacity (yet) for marking routes in different colors or for adding labels, so there’s no way of doing color-coding
Kate and I came in around midnight from driving around to look at all the blocks that have luminaria set up in our corner of Berkeley. Partly that’s because Kate caught my cold and wasn’t up to hiking around all evening. And partly it’s a measure of how far the luminaria have spread. In addition to all the neighboring blocks that connect to ours, maybe 30 in all, we checked out a couple of other areas nearby — maybe a half mile from our neighborhood — where people have started to do luminaria (I’ll put up a link to a map tomorrow). Next thing you know, we’ll be on “60 Minutes.”
This is the 14th year that we’ve done the lights on Holly Street. Defying December expectations a little, we’ve only had rain on one Christmas Eve. That was a couple years ago, and the storm blew through about an hour before we started to put out the luminaria. Yesterday, the forecast was for rain tonight. But it became clear during our warm, clear day that rain was not imminent and wouldn’t happen until late tonight, if then. But about 8:30 or so the weather turned; first it seemed like it would rain any minute. Then a little fog blew through. Then it cleared again.
That’s it for tonight’s Luminaria ’05 broadcast. Merry nondenominational, all-inclusive Christmas to all.
It could be the case that if you’ve seen one luminaria picture — or at least one of mine, taken with the credit-card sized 3-megapixel Casio — you’ve seen them all. I’ll let the docents at the Ansel Adams Museum slug that one out. In the meantime: Just before 8 p.m., in front of our house, looking south (toward Cedar). Nearly all the lights on our street are lit; we hear from some of the many strollers coming through that all the other blocks are alight, too.
First of all, about the weather: Maybe it does pay to whine about it the way I’ve been doing lately. Today was mostly clear and what I’d have to call balmy: A high of 69 this afternoon. So much for our December gloom (while we await the next three storms the weathercasters say are lined up well across the dateline to dump on us).
Second: The surrounding blocks were all out early this afternoon setting out their luminaria bags for what has become — see last year’s posts — a big neighborhood event. There are about 25 or so contiguous blocks, stretching about half a mile from north to south and from east to west at the widest points — where I saw families running around doing their set up.
Here on Holly Street, we’re the confirmed laggards. All the other blocks look like they’ll be lit up by 6:30 or 7 at the latest. We won’t even have our luminaria set up by then.
Christmas morning: The usual post-luminaria routine is to wake up, do the presents, then go out on the street to pick everything up: gather the luminaria remove the candles, dump the sand, and fold up the bags so they can be reused next year. But there was a heavy frost last night and the bags were all pretty much soaked this morning, so Piero decided we’d just recycle them and use new ones in 2005. He’s the boss.
Our neighbor Kay Schwartz, above, was the first one out this morning, and she pretty much picked up all the bags from the upper block of Holly Street. Then we hauled everything down to the Martinuccis to pull it all apart. Most of the usual suspects were there (below). It probably takes a total of two hours to set the whole thing up on our street — more if you have to get the 600-plus bags ready first — and about the same to take it all down again.