Government

Cedar Rapids nixes in-person Christmas tree lighting ceremony

Saturday night ceremony can be seen on Facebook

A man walks by the city of Cedar Rapids Christmas Tree as snow falls Dec. 2, 2019, in Greene Square. This year's tree wi
A man walks by the city of Cedar Rapids Christmas Tree as snow falls Dec. 2, 2019, in Greene Square. This year’s tree will be lit at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, but without the usual festivities in the park because of COVID-19 restrictions. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — There won’t be much rockin’ around the Christmas tree downtown this year.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Cedar Rapids will not host its usual in-person, tree-lighting ceremony complete with carolers, activities and food trucks that typically draws a crowd of 200 to 300.

Residents still may visit the tree and snap holiday photos in Greene Square, but the city will post signage to encourage visitors to practice social distancing.

Residents also may celebrate the virtual lighting of the Christmas tree at 5:30 p.m. Saturday via the city’s Facebook page in a video featuring a message from Mayor Brad Hart, a story read by Mrs. Claus and a countdown including Santa and city employees.

“We debated because of the derecho, because of COVID, is this something we should be doing?” city Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hock said. “I think the final thought was a little bit of normalcy in life right now, maybe people would really appreciate that, so that was kind of the reason that we thought we’d do it again this year, too.”

The Thompson family, of Cedar Rapids, will help light the Colorado spruce that they donated.

The city, in announcing the virtual tree-lighting ceremony in its newsletter, said now more than ever after the Aug. 10 derecho, the city is “sensitive to the loss of any tree. The trees used for the lighting are private trees that the owners need to have removed, typically because they have overgrown their space.”

“This was one that was needing to come down, so we want to repurpose those and get a little extra life out of it,” Hock said.

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Several other trees that were on the city’s list of potential holiday trees sustained damage in the derecho, Hock said.

With Cedar Rapids estimating it lost at least 65 percent of its tree canopy, it’s too soon to say how the sensitivity surrounding lost trees will affect holiday tree selection in the future, Hock said.

“It’s a long-standing tradition so we want to make sure and kind of vet the ideas a little bit and see what other suggestions people have and look at what other cities are doing and look for what the best option is for us in Cedar Rapids,” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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