It’s been said time and time again: There’s no place like home for the holidays. And this year, more than ever before, you’ll most likely stay close to home throughout the holiday season as COVID-19 remains a public health and safety concern.
A holiday season during a pandemic also means large annual events are either canceled or transitioning to virtual (think livestreamed Christmas tree lightings). But there are still plenty of ways to keep the spirit alive and celebrate the holiday season throughout the region, even with social distancing measures in place.
“This year, there’s going to be a lot of focus on outdoor events, even though it’s going to be cold,” says Ali Morris, Visit Fairfax’s destination marketing manager. “People are going to get outside and participate in virtual events, too.” Morris lists the Winter Walk of Lights, Christmas Illuminations (Mount Vernon’s holiday fireworks show) and Bull Run Festival of Lights as annual happenings that won’t lose too much tradition during the COVID-19 holiday season. “They’re wonderful light shows that we have here in Fairfax County, and they’re going to be opening earlier this year in November,” she says.
Due to the outdoor nature of the attractions, families and participants didn’t have to leave their cars and could easily spread out in years past—something that’s a needed feature at any gathering in pandemic times. Another built-in perk for Northern Virginians celebrating the season during a pandemic? The walkability of the region.
Take, for example, the easy-to-navigate streets and sidewalks in Alexandria and the city of Fairfax, which allow for more socially distant and outdoor events, including holiday shopping at local boutiques (with most requiring face masks and a policy on the number of patrons allowed in at one time), as well as simply walking around town to see holiday decorations.
“Even if there aren’t big events where there are thousands of people, the intimacy of the city has such beautiful ambience, especially around the holidays,” says Patricia Washington, the president and CEO of Visit Alexandria. “There’s a little bit more room to walk around in Alexandria, and with all those historic homes decorated with beautiful lights and trees, there’s so much to enjoy as you walk around.”
And though some yearly events, like Alexandria’s 50th annual Campagna Center Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend & Parade, have been canceled, there’s still hope for holiday events to turn to virtual options this year, including visits with Santa. “We’ve been working with Santa for there to be virtual visits,” Washington says. “Santa will be available from the North Pole, and families will be able to sign up and have their special time with Santa via Zoom.”
But above all, no matter what holiday celebrations take place or are canceled this season, Northern Virginians have learned to focus on the important things during the COVID-19 era, which might bring the true spirit of the holiday season alive even more. “Everyone says this time of year is so busy,” Morris says. “But now, you’re really able to refocus on the things that are important, like being together with family. It’s worthwhile to do that.”
(Old Town Alexandria Christmas tree photo by Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria.)