For the Parks and Recreation Department in Watauga County, N.C., this year’s holiday event is being called a “cheer spreader.”
Following a year dominated by a global pandemic filled with sickness, unemployment and economic turmoil, COVID-19 has not stopped county parks and recreation departments from celebrating the season in pandemic-friendly ways while keeping all involved safe.
Watauga County Parks and Recreation is hosting a drive-through Christmas parade to encourage residents to get into the holiday spirit.
Recreation Specialist Keron Poteat said all of the annual parades in the area were cancelled because of the pandemic, which encouraged the county department to provide a safe event for the community.
“Folks who are typically driving down the road as the parade marchers, they’re going to be stationary in parking spaces and the public will be driving through our parking lot to see all of the different exhibits that will be participating,” she said.
Dancers, bands, businesses, the fire department and of course, Santa, will be among 30 vendors participating in the parade while people drive by and a DJ plays Christmas music.
Watauga County Parks and Recreation Director Stephen Poulous said the parade will be held in the parking lot of the county’s new $40 million recreation center, where construction has been delayed because of COVID-19.
“We’re not open yet, but the parking lot lends itself to this venture,” he said.
The department is hoping to make the parade an annual event.
“We’re hoping to bring a little bit of normalcy back to 2020,” Poteat said.
In Chatham County, N.C., the parks and recreation department is hosting a similar occasion and modifying its Holiday in the Park event to bring people together from the safety of their cars.
Last year, participants attended the event in person, walking around the park to watch a tree-lighting ceremony, visit different stations, participate in games and sit on Santa’s lap.
In the year of the pandemic, families will drive to the park, stay inside their cars and roll down the windows to look at a large Christmas tree, lights and receive gifts including a free ornament kit, a reindeer food kit and candy canes.
Santa will also make an appearance alongside a mailbox where kids can drop off letters to be sent directly to the North Pole.
“We still wanted to be able to celebrate the holidays and do our best to serve our community and give them a reason to get out of the house and come out and celebrate,” said Mallory Peterson, Chatham County Parks and Recreation program supervisor.
To follow CDC recommendations, Peterson said all staff and volunteers will be wearing face masks, gloves and following social distancing guidelines during the free event.
“We knew that we weren’t going to be able to have an in-person event, but we still wanted to find a way to get people out of their houses but in a safe way that they could engage and feel like a part of the community,” she said.
The department is modeling the Holiday in the Park event after a similar drive-through event held for Halloween.
“We’re trying to do our best to bring some holiday cheer to our community,” Peterson said. “If one person comes to the event and has a good time, we’ll consider it a success.”
Community members in Henrico County, Va., didn’t even have to leave their houses to get into the holiday spirit.
The department held the Henrico Holiday Express Tour the first week of December which consisted of decorated county vehicles that drove through neighborhoods during a three-night stint.
Henrico Recreation and Parks Specialist Julian Charity said the department typically partners with the City of Richmond for an annual Christmas parade, which was held virtually this year.
The department wanted to host another event in response to the pandemic to engage the community and keep people safe.
“This is a way to kick off the holidays,” he said.
Vehicles from county organizations including police, fire, libraries, public works and public utilities participated in the tour.
“2020 has kind of dealt us a bad hand, so we’re trying to make the best of it,” Charity said. “It’s something that we can do just to meet you where you are and not have to put you into a huge crowd where people could feel uncomfortable.”