CHATHAM — Though it will be without the crowds, the holiday season won’t be without Christmas cheer in downtown Chatham.
In lieu of the Christmas Stroll, the merchants’ association and chamber of commerce are planning a more subdued holiday celebration that will encourage holiday shoppers to spend their dollars locally while observing the necessary precautions during the pandemic.
“The focus begins Thanksgiving weekend and goes through First Night,” organizer Jenn Allard told selectmen last week. While businesses need to promote local dining and shopping, the chamber and merchants felt it was unwise to invite large crowds to town. On Friday, Dec. 11, the usual kick-off for the stroll, there will be a “virtual tree lighting” for people to enjoy. Filmed in advance, the tree lighting will be streamed live on social media, “so that we don’t invite crowds to the park on that date,” she said.
But the tree itself, and thousands of other holiday lights, will welcome visitors to town. Christmas By The Sea organizers have arranged to allow local merchants to buy high-quality commercial holiday lights at a discount, and they are encouraging all businesses to light up the town with their displays.They’re encouraging locals to leave their holiday lights up through March to show that Chatham is open for business.
To avoid the usual crush of youngsters at the fish pier, Santa will not be making a grand entrance this year, but he’ll still make an appearance.
“The chamber and the merchants wanted to make an opportunity for children to see Santa at some point during the holidays,” Allard said, but the traditional breakfast with Santa was “just not possible this year.” Instead, there will be a “Selfies with Santa” event on Saturday, Dec. 12. The drive-through event, tentatively scheduled to take place at the community center, will allow families to sign up in advance for a visit with Santa.
“We actually have a giant … COVID-safe snow globe for Santa to be in,” Allard said. “Families would remain in their cars, and once they’re right in front of the snow globe, pop out and take their own photo.” Masks and other precautions will be required. “It’s a safe way for people to see Santa and for families to get that classic holiday photo,” she said.
On Sunday, organizers will launch their “12 Days of Christmas” campaign, a marketing effort involving local media outlets to encourage people to support small businesses.
“We’re really just focusing very much on shopping local, dining local,” Allard said. There will be 12 days of give-aways and promotions, and this year organizers will be selling handsome red-and-blue striped Chatham Stroll knit scarves. The scarves are available for pre-order now and will be on sale at local stores starting Dec. 1.
Allard said organizers are also seeking to have more holiday lights installed at Kate Gould Park and are investigating the possibility of a Christmas tree made of buoys to be erected in the Sears Park triangle, where the town Christmas tree was formerly placed.
“It’s something we’re hoping can be a new Chatham tradition in Sears Park year after year,” she said.
Chatham Chamber Executive Mary Cavanaugh said the goal of the event is simple. “We’re just trying to provide a safe environment for everybody” and drive commerce for local businesses, “and hopefully help them have a good holiday season.”
Saying she doesn’t want to sound like “Debbie downer,” Selectmen Chairman Shareen Davis reminded organizers that COVID-19 case numbers are continuing to rise, and safeguards against gatherings of people are more important than ever. Allard said the merchants and the chamber worked hard to encouraging social distancing, masks and other precautions during the Pumpkin People in the Park display last month, and they will use a similar approach for the Christmas events.
“Safety is the number one priority,” she said.
Davis said she’s looking forward to seeing the displays of holiday lights around town, and she added that she hopes the fun isn’t limited to the business district.
“I hope that neighborhoods will do the same,” she said.
For information, visit www.ChathamMerchants.com/christmasbythesea.