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Havre de Grace hosting Thanksgiving, Christmas events with modifications to prevent COVID-19 spread

Havre de Grace Mayor William Martin is surrounded by fake snow from a snow machine as he addresses the crowd before the tree lighting during the 2018 Havre de Grace holiday celebration.
Havre de Grace Mayor William Martin is surrounded by fake snow from a snow machine as he addresses the crowd before the tree lighting during the 2018 Havre de Grace holiday celebration. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The COVID-19 pandemic will not stop the City of Havre de Grace and local volunteer organizations from putting on holiday events this year, although there will be significant changes in how the annual events are conducted to prevent the spread of the disease.

Such changes include a new venue for the annual Holiday Tree Jubilee, no serving of meals in-house during the community Thanksgiving dinner and no Christmas parade during Holly Jolly First Friday.

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Applications to put on the Holiday Tree Jubilee and Holly Jolly First Friday, both scheduled for the first week of December, were unanimously approved by the Havre de Grace City Council last month.

The Holiday Tree Jubilee, which has been an annual fundraising event for the Havre de Grace Independence Day Commission since 2018, is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 3 through Saturday, Dec. 5 at Hutchins Park along the Susquehanna River waterfront under the park’s community pavilion and tent.

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Last year’s jubilee happened at La Banque de Fleuve, a downtown wedding venue, but organizers of the 2020 event plan to hold it at Hutchins Park to better facilitate social distancing as visitors check out — and potentially bid on — decorated Christmas trees provided by individuals, community groups and local businesses to be sold via silent auction.

“We’ve had this very successful fundraising event for the past two years in downtown Havre de Grace, and we would like to bring some holiday spirit to our city this year when we could probably all use it the most,” Taryn Martin, the event chair and wife of Mayor William T. Martin, told council members.

This year’s jubilee has a new organizer, the Celebrate the Fourth Foundation, a fundraising arm of the Independence Day Commission. The foundation is a committee under the auspices of the nonprofit Community Projects of Havre de Grace, according to Taryn Martin, an officer with the Independence Day Commission.

“We are looking forward to another great year of holiday cheer in Havre de Grace,” she said.

Organizers have developed COVID-19 safety plans that are consistent with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and have been approved by the Harford County Health Department, Patrick Sypolt, director of administration, told council members.

Volunteers will participate in an orientation so they can learn about the event layout and COVID-19 prevention plans. About 200 people are expected to attend over three days, and no more than 150 will be allowed in the venue at a time “to ensure proper social distancing is adhered to,” Sypolt said.

Council President David Glenn asked how organizers will keep the decorated trees secure during the night. Taryn Martin said organizers have been working with Sypolt and Police Chief Teresa Walter to coordinate security, plus they plan to retain private security officers.

The mayor also noted that the tent can be closed at night, and security cameras are at the park. Glenn said he is satisfied as long as security is “on the radar screen” of organizers.

“It’s just a great event, year after year, and I’d hate to see anything happen,” Glenn said.

No parade at Holly Jolly gathering

This year’s Holly Jolly First Friday is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 4 in the downtown business district.

“We will not have a parade this year, due to our concerns regarding COVID-19, however Santa will light the tree at Rochambeau Plaza,” Sypolt said.

St. John Street and North Washington Street will be closed around the area of the event, which typically happens during First Fridays. Street vendors will be far enough apart to support social distancing. There will not be beer gardens — people can purchase alcoholic beverages in downtown restaurants, according to Sypolt.

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The anticipated attendance could be as high as 3,000 people. The COVID prevention plan, which was approved by the county health department, requires vendors to be socially distanced, plus visitors and event participants must wear masks and hand sanitizing stations will be available, according to Sypolt.

“We felt, at the end of the day, that a parade just makes people gravitate toward the curb and get close together,” said Martin, who noted that city leaders do not want to have an event “in which we were forcing people, inadvertently, to be closer than they want to be in this COVID environment.”

While there will not be a parade, visitors can enjoy a four-hour event with street vendors, food, crafts, music including Christmas carolers, as well as a “magnificent tree lighting,” Martin said.

“This program will return to normal next year — hopefully, hopefully,” he said.

A volunteer moves through the line with a pair of packaged meals to be delivered during the 2019 Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Community Projects of Havre de Grace Inc. at the Havre de Grace Community Center.
A volunteer moves through the line with a pair of packaged meals to be delivered during the 2019 Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Community Projects of Havre de Grace Inc. at the Havre de Grace Community Center. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Community Thanksgiving

Havre de Grace’s annual community Thanksgiving dinner, which typically brings together volunteers from throughout the community to provide a holiday meal to those in need, is still on for this year, scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 26.

This year’s dinner is still happening at the Havre de Grace Community Center at 100 Lagaret Lane, although no meals will be served in house.

Meals will either be delivered or can be picked up at the curb outside the community center between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., according to a notice posted on the city website.

Anybody who wants to volunteer can call Don Osman at 410-939-5412 or 443-243-7493; those who want to donate turkeys or other supplies can call Fred Wills at 732-614-6178. Anyone who wants to request meal delivery can call Osman.

Councilman Jason Robertson thanked community volunteers who are working to put on holiday events amid the pandemic. He highlighted how “our volunteers, how our community organizations, how our businesses can really adapt and roll with the punches as were all trying to learn and navigate this — I hate the term new normal — but this current situation.”

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