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Christmas traditions to be held online, in drive throughs and outdoors this season

YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE: A professional lighting crew uses bucket lifts Thursday to drape holiday lights on the Christmas tree in Riverfront Park.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Though the community won’t be able to physically gather around a Christmas tree in Riverfront park for a lighting ceremony this year or gather for caroling or fireworks, the ceremony along with many other Inland Northwest Christmas traditions will still be available in a slightly different format to allow people to celebrate safely.

Riverfront Park will have several trees decorated for Christmas, and the public will be able to wonder through them through the month of December. The Christmas tree lighting ceremony will take place Friday, and Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward will lead a countdown, which will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube.

Once the ceremony is over, that Christmas tree and several others decorated by Spokane businesses will be up in the park until Jan. 3 for people to visit.

In a statement released Friday, Woodward noted the virtual ceremony was one of several activities that would be available for families throughout the holiday season.

“It’s so important to have things to look forward to, bright spots during difficult times, especially this holiday season,” she said. “We love this activity because families can come downtown, walk through the park in a safe, distant manner, and enjoy these spectacular holiday lights together outdoors.”

Another tradition that won’t be held in a traditional format is the exotic plants and Christmas lights filling Gaiser Conservatory in Manito Park. The organization behind the event, Friends of Manito, plans to do a drive-thru light show in the park instead.The conservatory is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Kelly Brown, president of the Friends of Manito organization, said she is hoping the drive-thru would give people who were missing out on many Christmas traditions something to look forward to, and a chance for families to do an activity together.

“In the season of everything being canceled, we thought it would be an exciting and new way to still enjoy something,” she said.

Brown said the organization is working through the details of the drive-thru, but said it won’t have exotic plants, which can’t survive in the cold. The event will have displays arranged throughout the loop of Manito Park. She said Friends of Manito is also working with a local radio station to try and set up music people can tune into while driving through the displays as well.

The drive-thru will be available from Dec. 11 through Dec. 20.

There will also be light displays available in Cowley Park in Spokane, at the Mirabeau Park Convention Center in Spokane Valley and at Orchard Park in Liberty Lake this Christmas season.

Other traditions, such as Christmas concerts and events at the Fox Theater, are canceled and have not been rescheduled. So far that includes the Nutcracker Ballet, Spokane Symphony Holiday Pops, Beethoven’s Ninth on New Year’s Eve, Whitworth Christmas Festival, the Oaks Academy Christmas Concert and the Upper Columbia Academy Christmas Concert.

Alison Highberger, public relations manager for the Spokane Symphony, said refunds for concerts are available, but the Fox is in a challenging financial situation due to the number of canceled events. She said people can hold onto their tickets and use them as Symphony credit, and season-ticket holders will be able to keep their seats for next season. She said people can also donate to the musicians’ fund to support those who have lost work due to cancellations, donate to the historic theater itself or purchase a gift certificate for future concerts. More information can be found on the Fox Theater’s website.

In Coeur d’Alene there will not be a parade or fireworks this year, but there will be several contests and activities at businesses that families can participate in.

Emily Boyd, executive director of the Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association, said there will be a parade of trees and an “Elf on the Shelf” scavenger hunt.

Boyd said there are 25 elves scattered throughout downtown hidden in businesses, and people who find them are entered into a drawing for a grill. They also can win gift cards during the holidays. Every elf found increases a person’s chances of winning, and even if people don’t win, they do have a chance to receive one of the 25 gift cards that will be given away each week. Boyd said the festivities will start on Friday and more information can be found on the downtown association’s Facebook page.