A smattering of small Christmas trees, aligned uniformly and draped in modest lights, line the 400 block of Elmhurst’s Fairfield Avenue each holiday season – a tradition the block has maintained for 65 continuous years.
“It’s a very simple, neighborhood celebration of the holiday,” said Greg Gills, a resident of the block. “You will not find massive lights, outlandish decorations, people outdoing each other or streams of cars driving by. It is, however, a celebration of our neighborhood and a bond we have with each other.”
This year, the block erected between 42 and 44 trees on both sides of the 400 block of Fairfield Avenue as well as along portions of nearby Hillside Avenue and Eggleston Street.
The tradition began in 1953 when three Elmhurst twenty-somethings excited about the holidays decided to place small Christmas trees, covered in lights and wrapped in red plastic to emulate the look of candy canes, in their front yards.
Once neighbors caught wind, the whole block wanted to participate, and as more and more Christmas trees rose throughout the years, more traditions were added to Fairfield 400’s holiday celebrations.
The block would gather for a Christmas-themed block party — a tradition the block still honors today. Joe Forest, one of the original residents, would hang a wire speaker across the street to broadcast Christmas music as the trees were placed.
After the trees are put up, usually on the first Saturday of December by the “men of the block,” residents gather for a chili lunch. The first chili lunch was hosted by Al Hasher, another of the original residents, in his basement. His son, who lives in the same house, now hosts the annual feast.
The third original resident, Harry Kapps, was an engineer. He carefully laid out a grid for the houses, so that each tree fell in line with the next. The measurements, which require each tree to be set back 15 inches from the sidewalks, are still used today.
If a resident moves out of the 400 block of Fairfield, they leave the new homeowners the stake that will hold up their tree come December. If they’re lucky, they might find a star tree topper, too.
Gills said not many residents want to move off the block.
“People don’t move in and out,” he said. “When they move in, they stay and want to raise their kids here. The Christmas trees, chili party, block party, these are elements and facts that our neighborhood has times where we interact as a neighborhood. People like that and it speaks to a value important to people when they raise their children.”
Gills said he is confident the tradition is one that will last for many years to come.
“People here get it’s a unique vibe with a lot of history,” he said. “Some people on the block are older folks who have been here for decades and there are a lot of new generations with kids that are excited about becoming part of neighborhood traditions. And that’s cool.”