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Organizers of the Festival of Lights Parade had to change it up this year to take social distancing into account amid rising COVID numbers.

 

One of the biggest single-day events in Colorado Springs was nearly shelved next to that infamous holiday elf, all due to COVID-19. 

The 36th annual Colorado Springs Festival of Lights needed to adapt, since hosting 50,000 to 60,000 attendees downtown on Tejon Street (or anywhere else, for that matter) was out of the question this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

After months of planning, the festival’s board members managed to secure space in The Broadmoor World Arena’s parking lot to keep the event running. 

The parade will allow a maximum of 60 entrants.

“The 2020 Festival of Lights Parade will be flipped to offer a free, safe, socially distanced way to celebrate the holidays,” the board said. “[Parade entrants] will remain parked while vehicles [of parade-goers] drive by.”

The announcement followed a July 13 Facebook post about the board weighing its options and developing potential alternatives to save the event.

Meetings throughout the summer stalled as various iterations fell shy of creating a safe environment for parade entrants and fans. 

More than two months of silence passed between Facebook posts — and then the board revealed its plan. 

“I was ready to not do it because I only want the best parade ever,” said Jeff Wilson, Colorado Springs Festival of Lights board chairman. “If I may puff out my chest, we throw the best parade every year. It’s definitely the most well-attended and I like to think it’s the best organized. That’s why I was ready to say no in August or September.” 

Wilson said there will be 20, 15-minute slots accommodating 100 cars per slot. The parade is expected to host approximately 2,000 cars.

As for parade participants, the 60 entries this year is down from the usual 80-95 entries that usually participate in the parade, Wilson said. 

While not conventional, the revamped event at the World Arena received mostly positive social media comments as locals are ready to partake in the remixed yearly tradition.

“The board is full of can-do people and they were positive about this whole thing,” Wilson said. “They didn’t want to quit on the community because the community never quits on us. They’ve worked their butts off to make sure this happens.”

Liz Denson, Colorado Springs Festival of Lights vice-chairwoman, said the board recognized the community cherishes the annual parade. 

Some community members celebrate each year by attending with their family and loved ones, and Denson said they didn’t want to snub anyone in 2020 — especially during a year when so many are impacted by the pandemic.

“We wanted to make sure to continue the holiday tradition for the people who look forward to it every year,” Denson said. “We’re proud as a board that we’ve come up with a safe solution that still allows people to come and enjoy this holiday tradition.” 

Denson said parade-goers have filled nearly all the time slots, which did not surprise her since the event is free. 

In the meantime, the board continues to monitor the increase of COVID-19 cases in El Paso County to ensure the safety of those who attend.

“It’s an outdoor parade, but our whole mindset is we want to maintain social distancing and keeping people safe,” she said. “While we’re doing that, we want to make sure we can still provide them with a great holiday experience.”

Despite the difficulties, Denson said positive community emails and social media posts have bolstered the board’s opinion that it has developed a quality product that meets the necessary safety protocols.

“We’re proud of the event we put on every year,” Denson said. “We know what a valuable and treasured part of the holiday this is for so many families in Colorado Springs and we wanted to do everything we could to make sure we offered those families some semblance of holiday tradition. This year’s will still be a great way to experience and kick off the holidays.” 

Reporter

Marcus Hill is a reporter for the Southeast Express and Schriever Sentinel. He graduated from Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2012 with a degree in Mass Communication.