Marco Island Council takes no action to keep Christmas events amid COVID-19

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

Marco Island City Council did not take action to keep the annual Christmas parade and tree-lighting events after a private organization announced their cancellation to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

City Council Vice Chairman Jared Grifoni said the holiday events are a tradition on the island.

"To think about not having them has really upset some people because it is just part of their family traditions," he said.

Grifoni had requested the council discuss at Monday night's council meeting how the city could potentially help keep these traditions alive. 

Steve Stefanides, chairman of Christmas Island Style, said people, churches and civic organizations who participate in these events do not want to have a Christmas parade this year. The organization plans holiday events across the island.

"They are afraid for their people," he said.

Stefanides said the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, an event that has been held annually for 35 years, was also canceled to keep the community safe.

"I can't put 3,000 people they way we do it every year," he said. "I can't safely do that."

Grifoni said civic organizations may request a permit to have a parade and the city should be ready to assist them to "make it safe and enjoyable."

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

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Stefanides said last week that organizers are trying to do what is right for the community.

Since the announcement of the cancellations, some residents have taken to social media to disagree with the decision to cancel the ceremony. 

Stefanides, who has been the chairman of the holiday organization for 16 years, said at the time that 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."

The Christmas tree still will 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."

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

Other events also are being impacted by the virus. Santa Claus' arrival by helicopter at Mackle Park has been canceled.

Instead of the annual street parade, set for Nov. 19, people will drive through a "Christmas village."

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 dog and boat parades, which are set for Dec. 1 and Dec. 12, respectively.

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

But Stefanides is not convinced he can keep tree-lighting ceremony attendants safe.

"I would be foolish to start that," he said.

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