Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Madison Holiday Tradition

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

For the past 17 years, I have had the privilege of driving past and enjoying the festive row of lighted holiday trees along the 2700 and 2800 blocks of University Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin. And every year, I’ve told myself that I should take the time to photograph this beautiful scene, but never got around to it. This year, I finally took the time.

For those of you who live elsewhere, this is no ordinary display of holiday lights. There is a row of 228 arborvitae trees between the railroad tracks and Doctor’s Park, each one trimmed to about six feet tall. The entire row stretches 1,000 feet, which is the length of three and one-third football fields.

Each tree is decorated in one specific color, but there are many different colors along the row – red, green, blue, yellow, purple, white, and several other colors. This holiday rainbow contains roughly 135,000 lights, most of them being energy-efficient LED lights. These lights stay on from dusk until dawn for everyone’s enjoyment.

This wonderful holiday display, which has become a Madison tradition, began with a lot of hard work and expense in the planting of the trees in 1983 by Dr. Jack Kammer. Ten years later, he began lighting the trees from Thanksgiving through the end of January. And for the next 16 years, he spent more than $10,000 annually to support this holiday tradition. He also recruited and directed many volunteers each year who would help to put up and take down all the lights.

Last year, at age 82, Jack Kammer talked about leaving a legacy, saying, “I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to do it, but I hope I will have some people who will take over when I can’t do it anymore.” Sadly, Dr. Jack Kammer passed away on May 13, 2010. His son, Dr. Chris Kammer, plans to continue the tradition in his father’s memory. He said that the University Avenue holiday lights “warmed so many hearts beyond my dad’s wildest dreams, and that made him extremely happy.”

In 2008, Jack Kammer published a book entitled, “The Story of the University Avenue Holiday Lights.” All the proceeds from the book are used to help fund this magnificent annual display. You can also help by donating funds to Shorewood Hills Trust – Tree Fund, c/o M&I Bank – Private Banking, 401 N. Segoe Rd, Madison, Wi 53705. If you would like to volunteer to help put up or take down lights, you can contact Chris Kammer through his Holiday Lights Facebook page.

Merry Christmas, everyone. And, as always, Happy Shunpiking!


  1. Thank you for featuring and promoting the continuation of my father's lights. Your photos are beautiful!!
    Chris Kammer

  2. Your article makes me feel like my Pops is still here. I'm so proud of all that he did to bring some happiness to Madisonians at Christmas. Your words and pics are heartwarming. Thanks againj!
    Julie Kammer Pearson