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An East Bay Christmas tradition: Sundar Shadi Holiday Display returns

By December 14, 2018 No Comments
The Sundar Shadi display at its original location on Arlington Boulevard in El Cerrito in 1990.

A beloved East Bay Christmas tradition will return on Dec. 15, when volunteers will set up the Sundar Shadi Holiday Display on the hillside at 7501 Moeser Lane, near Sea View Avenue, in El Cerrito.

The dozens of pieces in the display — people, animals and buildings — were created by Sundar Shadi, a Sikh who emigrated from India to study subtropical horticulture at UC Berkeley in 1921.

Shadi, seeing the decorations put up by his neighbors in the El Cerrito hills, started with a single illuminated star around 1947-50 that was placed on the open hillside lot he and his wife Dorothy owned next to their home on Arlington Boulevard.

Sundar Shadi in 2000.

The decidedly non-commercial display grew as new handmade figures and lights were added and became an annual Bay Area attraction that annually drew thousands and featured classical Christmas music recorded from records on reel-to-reel tape and played over a loudspeaker.

“Shadi was Hindu, not Christian,” his daughter Zilpha Paganelli explains on the website. “He designed the display as a holiday scene that can be seen to represent the viewpoints of many religions.”

After Shadi died in 2002, a month before he would have turned 102, the El Cerrito chapter of Soroptimist International assumed the role of caretaker. The display is now maintained by a committee of community volunteers who set it up on a part of the PG&E right-of-way along Moeser, a site that boasts a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate. The committee also handles storage, maintenance and repairs of the fragile pieces, which are considered folk art.

The display will be illuminated 5 to 10 p.m. nightly from Dec. 15 to Dec. 26, and will also feature caroling and musical performances by community groups.

For more information, visit the Sundar Shadi Holiday Display website.