Beloved Charlie Brown Christmas celebration goes on despite pandemic

In the Sonoma County town of Windsor, a beloved holiday event launched Thursday, overcoming both pandemic and wildfire.

The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Grove is in its 12th year, a display of 200 holiday trees, adopted and decorated by the public.

At a time when most holiday traditions are being scaled back or shelved, Windsor held tight to this one.

"We couldn't let the community down, we had to do something," said Tina Castelli, with the People4Parks Foundation, which helps put on the event."The holidays are here and we want the community to feel that, and feel good."

Each tree is a unique project embraced by classrooms, companies, non-profits and families, who pay a fee to decorate it.

Money left over benefits People4Parks, which support public parks in Windsor.

"We absolutely thought about not doing the grove this year," said Lorene Romero, President and CEO of the Windsor Chamber of Commerce.

Boosters knew Covid and crowds would be a challenge.

There was also the loss of the town's decorative lights, which melted in storage.

"They burned in a barn that was destroyed in the Walbridge Fires," said Romero. "It was a shock to everybody."

In 72 hours a crowdsource fundraiser generated enough donations to replace the lights: $17,000 in all.

"People really want this event, Windsor really needs the love, we've been through a lot this year and last," said Romero.

So trees were delivered, with wine barrels to stand them on.

Instead of a daylong community party to decorate them, it was spread over several days with time slots assigned.

"It's about more than just surviving, it's celebrating that we found a way to make it all work and everybody feels safe," said Castelli.

At five acres, the Town Green has plenty of space to social distance.

The "tree walk" is now a one-directional loop to avoid face to face encounters.

Arrows painted on the sidewalk aim to keep people safe.

"The feeling of the holiday and the Christmas season, they got it spot on, it's beautiful, it's refreshing," said mom Kristina Daya, grateful the display survived despite the obstacles.

On previous opening nights, the Green is packed with more than 1,000 visitors, enjoying caroling, carriage rides, visits with Santa, and the lighting of the Town's official tree.

None of those activities are happening, but the one missed the most: fake snow that used to blow twice each night.

"The last thing we need is to have kids laughing, playing, having fun and trying to lick the snow and have the health officer come and close us down," said Romero.

The grove is open 24-7 through New Year's Eve.

With a different theme for each tree, the decor ranges from paper cutouts to elaborate ornaments. 

"Everybody is celebrating moving 2020 out and hopefully a positive attitude and energy for a new 2021," said Romero.

The grove has grown from about 40 trees in the beginning to just over 200 now, the maximum Windsor's downtown electrical system can handle.

Visitors on Thursday night didn't complain about the pared-down event.

"I love how much work and effort is put into this place," said a Windsor mom who gave her name as Sohier. "I just love everything about it. 

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU