JANESVILLE—Despite the promise of at least two new COVID-19 vaccines, the mood surrounding the 2020 holiday season is one of hope held back by hesitation.
For nearly nine months, treasured annual traditions have been scrapped by a virus that has left us sick and tired both literally and figuratively. Even as a heavy dose of Christmas magic approaches, we find it hard to be festive in the face of fatigue.
For those seeking a little peace on Earth and good will toward men, this weekend might serve as a turning point. Starting Friday, the city’s annual Jolly Jingle celebration features such seasonal standards as a light show, ice skating exhibition, holiday crafts, visits with the Claus family and more.
Due to the aforementioned coronavirus, things will be slightly different than in years past. Basically, there might be a bit less “Jingle” but more than enough “Jolly.”
“With so many other major festivals and events canceled this year, we were adamant we had to do something,” said Rene Bue, an organizer for the annual event. “People need something to give them some kind of joy and help them feel happy, if only for a moment.”
Bue admits attendees might notice a smaller list of activities because of safety restrictions, but many popular standards—though altered—will remain in place.
“Typically, we have around 30 events over the course of three days. This year, there will be 15,” she said. “And every program we have is either going virtual or, if it is in-person, it will be held with all of the necessary precautions in place because of the pandemic.”
For instance, the event’s centerpiece—the downtown lighted parade—will move to Traxler Park. Rather than drawing crowds downtown to see passing floats, the “reverse” parade will take the form of stationary lighted displays presented as a drive-thru attraction.
“It will be done similar to how the city’s Recreation Division did ‘Twilight at Traxler’ and trunk or treat (for Halloween),” Bue said. “People can drive around the loop and see the entries without getting out of their cars.”
Additionally, the popular fireworks display will go on a one-year hiatus.
“There was just no way to be able to assure social distancing and for that many people to wear masks, so we decided not to do it,” Bue explained.
Among the popular events that will return this year are the Spice on Ice ice-skating exhibition, story time with Santa and Mrs. Claus and the holiday tree lighting—all of which will be held virtually.
In those cases, Bue said the pandemic forced changes that could be viewed as positives moving forward.
“There are people, like the elderly, who maybe don’t drive when it’s dark or maybe have mobility issues,” she said. “Some people are intimidated by large groups or don’t feel comfortable coming into that space. By having these virtually, people can watch from home. Also, they don’t have to choose between activities or worry about missing them because they will still be available online after Jolly Jingle weekend.”
Even with the changes, Bue still expects a number of people to venture downtown to take part. Probably just not as many people as usual.
“The parade and fireworks traditionally bring 10,000 to 12,000 people downtown. If that was all we cared about, this would be extremely disappointing,” she said. “But numbers are just one piece. The biggest piece is bringing joy and happiness to people and giving families and individuals the opportunity to take part in different holiday activities in downtown Janesville.
“Hopefully this will lift a lot of spirits.”