Christmas, Halloween traditions on Marco Island adapt due to COVID-19; some events canceled

Amelia Skender and Addison Heinrich, both 8, enjoy the Condee snow machine. The Christmas Island Style tree-lighting ceremony at Veterans' Community Park drew its biggest crowd up to date in 2017.

[Editor's note: Marco Island City Council is scheduled to discuss this matter at Monday's meeting. Check for updates.]

The annual Christmas tree lightning ceremony that began over three decades ago on Marco Island has been canceled out of abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 virus, but there's a slight chance it may still happen.

Steve Stefanides, chairman of Christmas Island Style, said Thursday organizers are trying to do what is right for the community. The private organization plans holiday events across the island.

Since the announcement, some residents took to social media to disagree with the decision to cancel the ceremony. 

The Christmas Island Style tree-lighting ceremony at Veterans' Community Park drew its biggest crowd up to date in 2017.

Stefanides, who has been the chairperson of the organization for 16 years, said he cares about the Christmas traditions.

"My heart and soul is in this," he said.

But, he added, "We are trying to err on the side of caution but we are also trying to do what we can to make it a happy time for people," he said.

The Christmas tree will still be installed in Veterans' Community Park with the help of the Italian American Society and another tree will be installed at Founder Memorial Park, the organization announced.

The group encouraged residents to visit the trees and "enjoy time with their families as they celebrate this season."

Other events also are being impacted by the virus. The event where Santa Claus arrives by helicopter at Mackle Park has been canceled, and the annual street parade, set for Nov. 19, will be adapted.

Stefanides said the group is planning to create a Christmas village in which the community will be able to drive through on the same day the parade was set to happen. 

The organization also canceled Santa's Arrival at Shops of Marco due to construction in the area.

Some of the events that are still happening without major modifications are the canine and boat parades which are set for Dec. 1 and Dec. 12 respectively.

Kurt Kropik holds daughter Juliet, 5. The Christmas Island Style tree-lighting ceremony at Veterans' Community Park drew its biggest crowd up to date in 2017.

City Council Vice chair Jared Grifoni has requested the council discuss Monday how the city could potentially help keep these traditions alive.

"They are important holiday traditions," Grifoni said Thursday. "They bring a lot of joy to the community."

Grifoni said several people and organizations have already offered monetary donations and to volunteer.

"I think the drive-thru idea is a great addition to the normal festivities but if there's still interest for a traditional parade then I don't see why that would be taken off the table," he said.

Grifoni said it is possible to have social distancing during these events. 

The CDC recommends social distancing, which means keeping at least six feet apart from other people, in indoor and outdoor spaces in combination with other preventative measures such as wearing masks, avoiding touching your face, and washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

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Halloween 'Spooktacular' is on

Caylee Thompson, 9, rocks her Snow White costume. The Spooktacular, the City of Marco Island's Halloween celebration, returned to Mackle Park's air-nasium last year, with costumes, games and family fun.

Meanwhile. the city announced Wednesday the "Spooktacular" Halloween tradition will take place but with some modifications to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The event will be from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Oct. 31, at Mackle Park.

Stations with games will be limited, kids will take arts and crafts to make at home instead of at the park and food won't be sold, said Samantha Malloy, manager of Parks, Recreation and Culture.

The main events will be a scavenger hunt, a new addition, and a costume contest, Malloy said. 

"We will have a sheet of clues in different arrangements so that not everyone is going to the same area at the same time," she said. 

"There will be sanitizing stations around the park and with the way we have things spread out, that should help us keep the groups small." 

Malloy said the city encourages mask wearing in all city-sponsored events but it is not mandatory.

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