Visit Solvang for a taste of Danish culture, quaint wineries, and the largest fire safety demo in Central California.
As you pull into the small but quirky Danish town of Solvang, California you’ll be greeted with windmills, traditional bakeries, and hordes of day-trippers commenting on the fact that it does look a little bit like Europe here. But on the last Friday of the Julefest (pronounced yule-fest) celebrations, the streets empty as tourists and locals alike head just outside of town to a normally empty field. Now it’s flooded with the corpses of discarded Christmas trees.
To anyone not familiar with the tradition, close your eyes and picture the infamous final scene of The Wicker Man. Now add Christmas trees and you’ve got an event so beloved by the people of Solvang it has become a yearly ritual.
In the days leading up to the Julefest Tree Burn, residents can be found dragging their ornament-less and graying trees to the empty field at old Mission Santa Ines. Here, they’re placed in a pile tall enough to make you wonder what type of being has the strength to throw the trees up there, where, to the joy of a whole town, they will soon be set aflame. While a community gathering together to burn things down might sound a bit odd to an outsider, even horrifying, this town’s wacky tradition is surprisingly wholesome. It’s also beloved—they’ve kept this tradition alive for over 40 years.
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Though it started simply as a way to discard of old Christmas trees, the event now offers live entertainment, food trucks, and drinks–think “movies in the park” except the main spectacle is a conflagration.
Situated in a state constantly in flames, the town sometimes receives backlash from outsiders, who soon feel embarrassed by learning that the event is actually put on by the Santa Barbara County fire department. In an effort to demonstrate the danger that dry Christmas trees can pose in a home, the fire department trades in twinkly string lights for, literally, a single red flare under a Christmas tree, showing the town the ease with which the home decor will light up.
With the fire department present and on duty throughout the event, the residents of Solvang pull out their lawn chairs, grab their bags of kettle corn, and crack open a cold one to say goodbye to Christmas in a way only they know how–with a bonfire large enough to rival the pyrotechnics of a Michael Bay movie.
For a town living outside of the norm, their post-Christmas tradition is only suiting, and for those looking to continue roasting their chestnuts over an open fire into January, the Julefest Tree Burn is the place to be.