Coronado's Christmas Past

Shelley Metcalf
The holiday season at the Hotel Del Coronado has always given the resort a chance to shine--literally.

What kicked off in 1887 with an intimate dinner party, before the legendary Hotel Del Coronado even officially opened, has blossomed into a month-long event that gets brighter every year.

A fancy French dinner for friends hallmarked the Hotel Del's first Christmas season. But later holiday festivities grew to include Victorian pastimes such as musical concerts, choral performances, balls, and even an 1892 exhibition of aquatic acrobatics in an indoor pool.

But the holiday trees and the lighting displays at the Del have long drawn the most attention. 1902 saw one of the Del's first Christmas trees put up in the ballroom, a feat of engineering requiring 15 men and several hundred feet of rope. That tree was 33 feet high and spread its candle- and tinsel-adorned boughs 26 feet wide. Two years later on the oceanfront lawn, the resort plugged in the country's first electrically lit tree, casting a meager, but history-making glow with just 250 lights.

Nowadays, 60,000 bulbs illuminate every facet of the Victorian resort, and the outdoor tree lighting has become a town tradition. "It's the most memorable event [at the Del], especially with the community," says Lauren Ash Donoho, who takes care of public relations for the Del. The Lighting of the Del, slated this year for December 3, attracts about 2,500 people from the surrounding area.

A marked contrast from 1904's somewhat sparse, "Charlie Brown"-style tree, the hotel's decorations now feature two towering evergreens. A massive 30-foot pine stands on the resort's Windsor Lawn, while the main foyer is graced by a 25-foot tree, whose sturdy branches, strung with some 15,000 lights, cradle a profusion of ornaments. Elsewhere, almost every inch of the resort is robed in evergreen garlands, trimmed with crimson ribbon, and interwoven with strands of lights.

After more than a century's worth of decorating for the holidays, the Del has it down.

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