San Jose’s Christmas in the Park to be a drive-through event this year

Tickets go on sale Tuesday for San Jose’s Christmas in the Park.  This year, the beloved holiday tradition will be a drive-thru event. For the first time in 41 years, it will also be held in a new setting with a fee.

Families are used to strolling through Christmas in the Park at Plaza de Cesar Chavez. The cherished walk-thru festival features Christmas trees lit up. However, in light of the pandemic, the nonprofit was forced to rethink its plans.

“Once COVID progressed, we really didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel,” said Christmas in the Park Executive Director Jason Minsky. “We knew we were going to have something different.”

Christmas in the Park is pivoting with a mile-long drive-thru event at History Park in San Jose, promising a lot more sparkle.

“It’s going to have over 150,000 pixel lights that are capable of 14 million colors,” said Exhibit Engineer J.R. Mattos.

Mattos helped design the light show calling it an extension of his home display.

More than 30 historic buildings at History Park will be lit up including the replica San Jose light tower and a 300-foot tunnel.

“It’s something the Bay Area has never seen before,” said Mattos. “There are other drive-thru Christmas light displays. There’s never been a fully animated synced to music drive-thru display.”

Animated exhibits, signs and Christmas trees decorated by community groups are included.

“We are not able to have any vendors at the event this year,” said Minksy. “We don’t have any of the rides that help support us and our fundraisers are down.”

For those reasons and not to jeopardize its future, a traditionally free event will have an admission fee of $20 per car. It will be $10 if you go from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. 

Tickets must be purchased online in advance for a 15-minute time slot.

Some may wonder if it rival or match a similar drive-thru experience at Fantasy of Lights at Vasona Park in Los Gatos, which is sold out every year.

“So many organizations are having to cancel their events this year so honestly the more the merrier,” said Debra King, Santa Clara County Parks program coordinator.

Drive-thru holiday events are not what families are used to, but with change comes new traditions and new memories.

“We are all working together to make sure our community has some amazing things to do during the holiday season when there won’t be a lot of choices to have,” said Minsky.

The nonprofit is working with the City of San Jose and charitable organizations to offer free tickets for low-income communities. Christmas in the Park opens the day after Thanksgiving and runs until January 3.