El Cerrito’s Holiday Display is a Folk Art Treasure


By Michelle Fadelli | Photos courtesy of the Sundar Shadi Holiday Display collection

Hand in hand, a man will whisper to his child, “My parents used to bring me here on Christmas Eve when I was a little boy.”

Indeed, the Sundar Shadi Holiday Display has been delighting the residents of El Cerrito, and visitors from far and wide, since 1950.  Every year, people return to see this vintage exhibit with fond memories, whether they remember it from a few years ago…or 50 years or more.

The display is a vast collection of hand-made human figures, animals and buildings that, when assembled, depict the historical walk of the wise men toward Bethlehem—lit by the glow of a sparkling star under the gaze of a golden-haired angel.

Visitors to the annual holiday event in the El Cerrito hills will be enchanted by dozens of sheep and their shepherds, camels and camel drivers, dogs and donkeys, and the three wise men as they approach the dwellings and domes of Bethlehem.

The entire display was hand-crafted by the late Mr. Sundar Shadi, a beloved long-time resident of El Cerrito, and it is truly a folk art treasure.

The camels, sheep and donkeys are made mostly of stucco over chicken wire, balanced on strips of salvaged wood.  The buildings of Bethlehem are made from old wooden milk crates, coffee tins and other recycled and salvaged items.  Villagers and wise men are stick-and-wire figures with beards made from discarded rope.  And all the figurines have quaint, hand-painted features.

Mr. Shadi, a Sikh gentleman originally from India who immigrated to the United States to attend UC Berkeley, began the collection with a single Christmas star in 1949 and added animals, figurines and buildings each year.  During his lifetime, the display graced the hillside next to his home on Arlington Boulevard.  Following his death in 2002 at the age of 101, local volunteers now arrange for the display on open space down the hill not far from the original site.

This year, many of the villagers will be sporting new robes and head coverings thanks to former Mayor Jane Bartke, who recently invited several friends to help replace weathered clothing on the villagers.  Other volunteers are working to restore some of animals which have crumbled a bit during storage or have broken over the years during transportation.  Others will set up lighting to illuminate the display for five hours each evening.

Start or continue a tradition!  Enhance your holiday with a visit to this wonderful event, and share it with family and friends.

The Sundar Shadi Holiday Display will go up on Sunday, December 11th and will remain through December 26th, lit each evening from 5 to 10 pm, at 7501 Moeser Lane in El Cerrito. 

For more information, including details on musical performances, volunteering this holiday season or donating for restoration work, please visit ShadiHolidayDisplay.com. 

For fun photos and stories, follow us on Facebook at: facebook.com/Sundar-Shadi-Holiday-Display


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