ROANOKE, VA. – On Tuesday night, Roanoke leaders switched the lights on for the Christmas tree downtown in Wells Fargo Plaza.
It could be the earliest it’s ever happened in history.
While the lights twinkled, just a few people gathered around the tree. What normally brings hundreds to more than a thousand people out saw just a few onlookers in 2020. City leaders did not host a big event this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evelyn Reil and her daughters made the trip downtown to check it out anyway.
“I’m going to watch the tree lighting, well it’s my birthday. Just being close to Christmas, the holidays, I know it’s gloomy this year,” Reil said.
The early Christmas tree lighting is on brand for a year like 2020. Jaime Clark with Downtown Roanoke Inc. said they didn’t want to cancel this year’s event, but knew they had to do something different.
“Tonight is the official kick off of the 25 days of dickens, a more spread-out way to celebrate downtown,” Clark said. “We had a lot of conversations with our businesses, and we heard pretty clearly from them: ‘Please, whatever you do if you can do something please do something, don’t just cancel it.’”
Dickens of a Christmas usually draws thousands of people downtown over three Friday nights. This year, instead of the big events, smaller ones are sprinkled across the schedule over the next month.
Ben Louis and his family strolled downtown to check out the tree. They’ve been avoiding crowds and staying in to stay safe.
“We came downtown, we’ve been staying away because of the pandemic and wanted to get out and see what’s going on,” Louis said.
And while it’s good family fun, Clark said coming out and supporting small business is the best way to spread holiday cheer.
“This is really crucial, so we’re very concerned about many of them and coming down to support them is more important than ever. Whatever you can do, you don’t have to buy all your gifts down here, but grab a few there’s some great stores down here,” Clark said.
You can view the full lineup of events here.