If you can’t seem to find your Christmas spirit, it is time to take a trip to La Costa drive in Brentwood, CA. There you can find Michelle Smith, who, along with many of her neighbors is spear-heading the Tunnels of Joy in the small-town community. Perhaps you will find her sitting on her porch enjoying her extravagant light display and talking with neighbors and passersby alike. If you listen closely, she will share the stories of the magical tunnels that line her street. She will invite you into her neighborhood and help you believe in the magic of Christmas. Even naysayers walk away from the Tunnels of Joy and are reminded of the power of the Christmas spirit.
What Are the Tunnels of Joy?
First things first, what exactly are the Tunnels of Joy? The Tunnels of Joy are a community light display located in the Deer Ridge neighborhood of Brentwood, California. La Costa Drive is lined with handsomely decorated and brightly lit arches that stand out boldly against the night sky. The entire span of homes on La Costa drive have arches of lights that umbrella the sidewalk. The effect is breathtaking and transports you into a world of holiday magic. It is easy to get lost in the Christmas spirit as you wander through the tunnels. The lights, the music and the smiling faces of people out enjoying the light display invoke a feeling of simple pleasure and joy…for which the tunnels are aptly named.
How Did They Come to Be?
If you ask Michelle how the Tunnels of Joy came about, she will quickly answer that, as a neighborhood, “we were all just really into lights.” She explained that before the magic of the Tunnels, the neighborhood was always intricately decorated and brought forth a feeling of Christmas spirit. But, one neighbor had a vision of creating an elaborate, community light display that connected each home through well-lit arches, to form the intricate light tunnels that we all can visit today. Michelle explained that one neighbor built their tunnels, and within a week, the rest of the neighborhood followed suit. Soon, it wasn’t just a few arches…it was a holiday experience of lights.
Together but Unique
When I asked how such a detailed community light display could be organized, Michelle laughed and emphasized, “There is no planning. There are no rules. There never was. It just happened.” She explained that once the first few tunnels were erected, every family jumped on-board. The organic nature of how the tunnels grew confirms the magic of the experience. Each family has a unique design for their tunnel. Some of the tunnels have sparkling white lights, while others have multi-colored lights. Some families have adorned their tunnels with detailed ornaments, while other families have painted their tunnels a merry Christmas red. There is no doubt that the tunnels are all part of one beautiful light display – but the attention and care that each family puts into their design allows the individuality of each family to shine through.
What Makes Them Different?
The Tunnels of Joy are a holiday light experience. As most Christmas light displays in the community are standalone homes, adorned in elaborate light displays, the Tunnels of Joy invites you to park your car and become part of the light display. Instead of diving by and snapping a few pictures, each visitor can experience the glow of the tunnels intimately from within the tunnel. As you pass through the hundreds of light arches, you can admire the light displays at each home. You might see Snoopy landing his airplane on the roof of one home, while a brightly lit unicorn jumps through the bushes at the next. As a visitor at the Tunnel of Joy, you not only get to admire the lights, you become entrenched in the magical holiday displays. Each step is another step of joy, holiday spirit, and community.
Where Did the Tunnels of Joy Get Their Name?
There is no doubt that when you experience the Tunnels of Joy, you truly do experience the magic of the holidays with pure, unadulterated joy. But, as you explore the tunnels, you find that each and every home on La Costa Drive has a sign that reads, “Joy.” Some of the signs are bold and big and light up the entire yard. Other signs are smaller, detailed wooden signs that spell out “Joy” in decorative scripts. Regardless of the style or the size, “Joy” is celebrated throughout the street in homage of a beautiful neighbor named Joy.
Joy Bursch lost her battle with cancer but still lives on in the neighborhood light display. It was Joy who is recognized as being the voice in the neighborhood that brought all the families together. She believed that good neighborhoods demanded neighbors that spent time together. Joy made it her mission to ensure that everyone knew each other and that there were neighborhood BBQs, block parties and even just shared glasses of wine on the porch on warm Brentwood summer evenings.
As the phenomenon of the tunnels began to take hold, each and every family knew the best way to say, “thank you” to their beloved friend and neighbor was to name their tunnels after her. There was a little discussion as everyone knew that without Joy, there would probably not be any tunnels. Michelle said that the spirit of Joy is strong throughout the year but is heightened during the holiday season.
Why Visit The Tunnels of Joy?
There are thousands of reasons to visit the Tunnels of Joy. Each brightly lit arch and detailed light display on each home is a perfect reason to visit La Costa Drive. Plus, it is a simple evening experience to evoke the holiday spirit and forget the stresses of the day. Kids and adults alike will get lost in the magic of the season. If you still need more reasons to visit, the neighbors on La Costa Drive realized with the thousands of people wandering through their streets each season, they had a very powerful platform.
The neighborhood made the decision to turn the Tunnels of Joy into a fundraising opportunity to support local families suffering from the devastating effects of cancer. Inspired by their late friend Joy, the neighborhood set up a variety of donation boxes where people can choose to donate to the Tunnels of Joy, where all the money will be donated to a family in need. There is no obligation, and the donations are done quietly and anonymously. However, in one year, they were able to gift over $1000.00 to a local Brentwood family. Hence, the gift of Joy carries on. Not only do the tunnels give joy to the homeowners and the visitors, but a local family was also gifted a bit of holiday magic and joy as well.
When Can You Go?
The Tunnels of Joy are open to visitors every day of the week until the end of December. As soon as the sun sets gently in the horizon, the lights come on and the magic of Christmas fills the air. On December 21, 2018, La Costa Drive will host a family-friendly event to raise money for a local child fighting to overcome cancer.
You can expect a visit from Santa, snacks, drinks and have the opportunity to take pictures in the Tunnels. Plus, all donations from this event and all collected during the month-long display of lights will be donated to the young girl and her family. Every evening, in fact, is a perfect day to visit the Tunnels of Joy.
Believing in the Magic of Christmas
The magic of Christmas is embedded in simple joys: family, friends, music, lights and giving. Joy stems from people connecting and experiencing mere moments of time together that culminate in warm smiles and magical memories. Somehow, as you walk through the tunnels and begin to learn who the families are living in the community, the stresses we associate with Christmas go away. The pressure to rush and the pressure to have a perfect Christmas fades into the smiles of people slowly taking in the enormity of the light display. Somewhere, on the long leisurely walk through the tunnels, the magic of the season settles in.
If you see Michelle sitting on her warmly adorned porch, ask her why she loves the lights. The glint in her eye, the sparkle in her smile, and the joy in her laughter will remind you that the magic of the holiday is not something you find under the tree or wrapped in a beautiful box. The magic of the season is in our hearts and the people who we share our hearts with. For this Brentwood neighborhood, the Tunnels of Joy is a piece of their story they openly share with the world to come and enjoy. Their tunnels are a holiday, storybook experience we are lucky enough to be invited into.
The Tunnels of Joy are a hidden treasure that lights up the dark winter sky on our Local Backroads.
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