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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Lynn Schaefer almost skipped the Christmas lights this year.

While the Tubbs fire spared her Banyan Street neighborhood in Coffey Park, it leveled 1,000-plus nearby homes. She and neighbors questioned whether it was appropriate after all the devastation to put up holiday lights and decorations this year in their cul-de-sac, which always drew hundreds of onlookers.

“We didn’t know how to feel,” said Schaefer, who was born and raised on Coffey Lane. “This is not the same neighborhood that it was … If you look to the north, you see nothing.”

Schaefer, 69, and her neighbors ultimately decided to put up their holiday decorations in hopes of bringing the area’s children and families some much needed cheer and sense of normalcy. They’re among the countless neighborhoods around the county trying to bring joy this season with their elaborate lights and holiday displays.

For Caitlin Childs, driving around town to check out Christmas lights displays has become a family holiday tradition, one she plans to continue this year. This weekend she and her parents will be visiting various neighborhoods throughout Santa Rosa, including Coffey Park and Montgomery Village.

“I like that I get to do this with my family. A lot of people are feeling this way right now — being with family and finding things to be celebratory about,” said Childs, 33.

“Christmas is supposed to be a special time,” said Mario Sottile, who lives two doors down from Schaefer near the corner of Banyan Street and Walnut Creek Drive.

He strung up lights and set out 5-foot candy canes and lighted reindeer ornaments outside his home, which he’s decorated since he moved there 17 years ago. He and neighbors also put out signs that read “Coffey Strong.”

Sottile, 51, said Rosey the Trolley and Christmas carolers rolled by every year to look at the neighborhood displays. People still are coming by, although not as many as previous years, said Sottile, who also helped string up solar-powered lights in burned-out areas of Coffey Park.

“Christmas lights get you in the spirit and make you feel good,” he said. “It’s a warm feeling. It’s trying to turn a negative into a positive.”

Grete Hansen, 40, recalls fond childhood memories looking at the holiday decorations in Petaluma.

“That’s something we did as a family. We would drive around on the west side of town, particularly D Street, and look at all the beautifully decorated houses,” said Hansen, who now decorates her Saint Francis Drive home as part of Petaluma’s City of Lights Driving Tour.

She said her home was one of more than a dozen homes this year on the tour. For the past six years, she has transformed her place into a gingerbread house, featuring large wooden gingerbread men, gumdrops and a gingerbread bakery. On weekends her children, ages 6 and 10, stand outside, handing out homemade cookies to people rolling by. They also gave out presents this year to more than two dozen children who lost homes in the fires.

Hansen said the goal of her holiday display was to create fond memories like the ones from her childhood for other families, which they’ve done. Dozens of people roll by their home on any given night.

“We’ve created this tradition that people look forward to,” said Hansen, who also continues with her kids the tradition of driving around looking at light displays.

“We personally go out to different cities to look at lights,” she said. “That’s on the agenda for this coming week.”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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