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Many Napa Valley holiday events upended by social distancing requirements

Many Napa Valley holiday events upended by social distancing requirements

From the Complete coronavirus coverage from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan: Fall/Winter 2020 edition series

From Thanksgiving weekend through Christmastime and into the new year, holiday parades and crowds around Napa County will be out, and drop-in and virtual gatherings will be in.

Organizers are refashioning the celebrations that normally adorn the final two months of the year, as restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus – though relaxed in Napa County in recent weeks – stay in effect.

Those rules have led to one-year hiatuses for standbys of the local calendar like downtown Napa’s tree lighting and parade to kick off the holiday season at the end of November, and Napa’s Lighted Art Festival in January.

Other events like the Napa Valley Turkey Chase on Thanksgiving morning have been converted to a virtual do-it-yourself format, though race organizers still hold out hope for staging its New Year’s Day peer, the Resolution Run, in Yountville with a smaller field of athletes.

While many restaurants have reopened at reduced capacity and local schools have begun welcoming back some students to campus two days a week, social distancing remains the rule in Napa County – and a roadblock to reviving mass gatherings before a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.

State and county stay-at-home orders have already forced the cancellation of major events earlier this year like the BottleRock music festival and the Town & Country Fair, and have stayed in force long enough to affect the social schedule into the late fall and winter.

The Downtown Napa Association has scrapped its remaining in-person holiday gatherings through the calendar year, including the Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the night before Thanksgiving, and the parade later that week.

A tree will be decorated and displayed as usual at Veterans Memorial Park, but will be illuminated without a ceremony, according to Craig Smith, executive director of the Downtown Napa Association, which organizes the holiday events.

“Our awareness that they might have to be canceled was going on as early as April,” Smith said last week. “We wanted to wait till the last minute to cancel them from a planning standpoint, and now we’re at that point. We have to be aware of people’s safety first and foremost.”

To create a holiday-themed presence downtown, the merchants’ group is preparing a Christmas-tree contest in which participating businesses will decorate trees for customers to view.

“The response we’ve gotten so far indicates it’ll be worth people’s while to look around,” he said. “We don’t want to let Christmas just go away, so we’ll do what we can for folks who are shopping and dining down here. It will still look just like Christmas.”

The Lighted Art Festival, a nighttime exhibition of large-scale, illuminated artistic displays, will not take place in January 2021, city Recreation Manager Katrina Gregory confirmed. Websites hosted by the city and the Downtown Napa Association have been updated in recent days to instead promote the next festival, now slated for Jan. 8-16, 2022.

Napa’s Parks and Recreation department saw no way to safely stage even a scaled-down version of a festival that this January attracted an estimated 35,000 spectators, according to Gregory.

“We had to make some decisions on large-scale events many months ago because it takes nine to 12 months to plan the festival,” she said. “We had held out hope to do something on a smaller scale, but I think the county health orders will probably not change dramatically in the next couple of months. It just didn’t seem a good time to hold any large gatherings, and the logistics of controlling a large crowd looked difficult. It’s just better to put our resources toward the next (festival) rather than scale back this one.”


Yountville’s slate of seasonal events also is moving away from group gatherings to virtual alternatives. The upcoming Holidays in Yountville program will include a gift guide featuring Napa Valley businesses and their products, as well as a new “community cookbook” with recipes submitted by local restaurants, wineries and residents, according to Whitney Diver McEvoy, chief executive of the Yountville Chamber of Commerce. Other virtual events produced by member businesses will be showcased on the chamber website.

A tree lighting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 22 outside the Yountville Community Center, but the event will be livestreamed on Facebook in lieu of a traditional ceremony, said McEvoy.

“We wanted to have something to look forward to for the holidays, so we decided to do the best with what we could, encourage people to keep socially distanced and enjoy the holiday,” she said.


COVID-19 concerns also led the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce to abandon its Lighted Tractor Parade, which has taken place annually for more than a quarter century and attracts more than 10,000 spectators each year. The chamber in September announced it would pursue an alternative holiday program featuring the tractors, but without a parade route.

Also scrubbed were Calistoga’s Homecoming and Halloween parades, the latter replaced by a drive-through trick-or-treat event held last Saturday that allowed for physical distancing.

Those taking part in holiday running events also have been affected by pandemic-related curbs. The Turkey Chase, a fundraising run for local charities normally staged Thanksgiving morning, has been converted to a week-long virtual race in which runners can complete the 5- or 10-kilometer distance anytime from Nov. 23 to 29, and receive a medal and T-shirt. Race organizer Dame’ Rahal said the goal is to sign up 450 people for this year’s Turkey Chase, compared to the 1,166 who took part in 2019 at Napa Valley College.

However, Rahal is holding out hope that Napa County’s Oct. 20 promotion to California’s “orange” tier – for maintaining a lower rate of COVID-19 infections than many other counties – may help her case for mounting a New Year’s Day run in Yountville, albeit with fewer participants. If granted permits by the town, the Resolution Run will take place in Yountville with a limit of 200 people, including runners, volunteers and staff, she said. (This January’s run featured 347 runners.)

Further progress toward resuming public events may hinge on Napa County protecting its gains in slowing the pandemic’s spread. Last week, , Dr. Karen Relucio, the county’s public health officer, cautioned that an uptick to 86 new infections the previous week could foreshadow a drop back to “red” status and the return of restrictions on indoor business activity just as colder, wetter winter conditions draw near.

“If we get complacent, we’re not going to last long in orange,” Relucio told the county Board of Supervisors, urging residents to continue wearing face coverings, washing their hands, keeping up social distancing and avoid mingling outside of households.

California grades its 58 counties on their effectiveness in controlling COVID-19 by assigning them one of four colors – purple, red, orange or yellow. Purple carries the most restrictions on businesses and activities, yellow the fewest.

Watch Now: Thanksgiving fire safety tips(tncms-asset)610c59e2-8cec-5d5d-ba9f-83351fa2f7f3[0](/tncms-asset)

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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