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Davis’ 40th Annual Tree Lighting: A Cautious Return To Normalcy

On Thursday, December 2nd, the City of Davis held its 40th annual Holiday Tree Lighting on the E Street Plaza. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the in-person events this year remained slightly modified. As said by Mayor Gloria Partida in a City of Davis report from November 18th, “While we still are taking precautions with gatherings, we are looking forward to an opportunity to celebrate with modified festivities.” Activities not held this year as part of the tree lighting event included the visits with Santa for kids and the Candlelight Parade. 

With families and college students in attendance at the tree lighting this year, traffic slowed to a halt on E Street and other areas downtown. At the start of the festivities at 6 pm, people wearing masks walked around the plaza and enjoyed the holiday music and various performances from groups including the Davis High School Madrigals and the Davis Children’s Chorale. The oldest Unitrans double-decker bus was parked on the street and decorated with lights. The Davis High Cheerleading team had a tent and were selling cookies and other treats. While traditional visits with Santa were not available this year, Mr. and Mrs. Clause sat on a large sleigh on top of a trailer, waving and talking to excited kids from a safe distance. Various people in costumes roamed the scene as well, available for pictures. These characters included holiday classics like a gingerbread person and a snowman, and other non-traditional festive figures such as a cow, a frog, and a panda. 

Local businesses also stayed open and were decorated with holiday decorations. Around the block, people formed a long line outside of the Varsity Theater to watch free screenings of the DreamWorks Christmas short film titled “Merry Madagascar.”

The countdown began at 6:39 pm, and moments later the lights on a large Christmas tree in the middle of the plaza lit up. Standing taller than the buildings surrounding it, the tree proved to be a spectacular sight for small-town Davis. After the lights were on and the cheering subsided, young children began to weave through the crowd and people once again began to roam the plaza.

While the city did put up a tree on the plaza last year, the lighting ceremony was held virtually, and the music performances were pre-recorded and posted online. Before lighting this year’s tree, Mayor Partida remarked that there were only “four people” in person at last year’s event. This year the ceremony signifies another cautious return to normalcy since the many shutdowns that occurred at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other returns this year have included the resumption of indoor dining in many local restaurants in June and the return of in-person classes at UC Davis in September.

As hope falters once again with the discovery of new COVID-19 variants in the past months, it is no surprise that people are hesitant to return to all in-person events. Yet the large turnout at this year’s tree lighting demonstrates the importance of holiday festivities to an optimistic community.

Hadlie is a third year at UCD who is majoring in Community and Regional Development. She loves being outside and eating ice cream. In the future she hopes to pursue a career that combines community development with research.
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