Pandemic causes changes to annual holiday events

Gabriel Smith, Campus Carrier asst. arts & living editor

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to drastic changes in virtually all aspects of everyday life. As we approach the holiday season, large, annual events are being restructured to maintain the events’ integrity while following COVID-19 safety guidelines. Among these include the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Thanksgiving Day football, Black Friday shopping and the annual Ball Drop in Times Square. 

Traditionally, the department store Macy’s conducts a large, nationally televised parade in New York City on Thanksgiving Day. As explained by New York culture website 6sqft, he parade runs along a two and a half mile route in Manhattan and attracts a massive audience, with roughly three and a half million people attending in-person each year and another 50 million watching on television. This year, parade organizers are making a number of changes in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. According to ABC News, the number of parade participants is expected to be reduced by about 75%, and all will be required to maintain social distancing and wear face coverings and other personal protective equipment, as necessary, during the parade. Further, the parade will not have an in-person audience and will be produced for television only, will not utilize the traditional 2.5-mile route and will not contain any participants under eighteen years of age.

Some holiday traditions, like Thanksgiving Day football, may be less affected by pandemic-related restrictions. Multiple football games are currently scheduled for Nov. 26, including the Houston Texans at the Detroit Lions, the Washington Football Team at the Dallas Cowboys and the Baltimore Ravens at the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Christmas Day, the Minnesota Vikings are expected to play against the New Orleans Saints, according to the NFL. As explained by ESPN, regulations on fan attendance at these games will vary by team, venue, and the local COVID-19 situation at the time of the game. Nonetheless, while the NFL has been playing since September of this year, these games may still serve as important signs of normalcy for many, after the months-long hiatus of live sports earlier this year.

As for the tradition of Black Friday shopping, many retailers are adjusting their discount and marketing strategies in order to promote consumers’ spending while limiting the risk of disease transmission. According to Steve Horowitz, an economics professor at Ball State University in Muncie, In., who spoke to the Louisville Courier Journal earlier this year, this adjustment will likely have two main aspects: a focus on alternative shopping options, like online shopping and curbside delivery, and an extension of discounts and promotions before and after Black Friday. These shifts are borne out in data from a recent survey by the National Retail Federation. While the survey found that planned holiday spending in 2020 is slightly above the average spending level for the past five years, it also found that about 42% of consumers planned to start their holiday shopping by the end of October and that 60% of consumers plan to conduct their holiday shopping online this year, up from 56% last year.

When the pandemic initially hit the United States last March, churches and religious institutions began to move their services online in order to protect their members. Many different religions have major holidays in the time between November and January, including Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Diwali and Christmas. In order to appropriately celebrate the religious holidays while keeping their congregations safe, religious institutions across the country are rethinking their holiday plans. For example, the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha Hindu Temple in Atlanta, Ga. generally hosts their Diwali festivities during the second weekend in November. As explained by their website, the events, including worship sessions, picnics, markets and an elaborate firework show, occur primarily at their temple over the course of several days, and are attended by thousands of people from across the Southeastern United States. This year, instead of those traditional plans, the Diwali festivities are being held virtually, with the major events and worship sessions being streamed to viewers across the world. 

Other religious institutions are doing the same, for example the Washington National Cathedral, the main cathedral of the American Episcopal Church, generally has Christmas day services several people in attendance. Instead, according to their website, they plan to host a series of worship services and concerts throughout the Advent seasons, which they will air virtually for those wanting to participate. 

The annual Ball Drop in Times Square, like the Macy’s parade, is also facing a significant scale-back as a result of the pandemic. The vast majority of in-person attendance will be eliminated in favor of an online stream, with remaining in-person activities focused on an extremely limited group of VIPs and honorees. In September, Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, which plays a large role in coordinating the Times Square Ball Drop and its associated celebrations, announced that while the events would certainly be focused on virtual offerings with some in-person events, the details of the in-person activities were still being finalized. 

After enduring several months of pandemic-related restrictions and irregularities, many people across the country are ready to spend time with their loved ones and enjoy the traditional annual events and celebrations that distinguish the winter holiday season. With some limited exceptions, however, the festivities and activities this year will still be virtual-focused and socially distanced as the nation continues working to suppress COVID-19 transmission.

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