Reimagined Winterfest touts virtual and socially distanced holiday experiences

For 40 years, Winterfest has been Cleveland’s symbolic kickoff to the holiday season, as well as a brightly lit attraction drawing thousands of Clevelanders downtown. To say things are different in 2020 is an understatement, though Winterfest coordinator Downtown Cleveland Alliance is preparing to bring the community some pandemic-friendly Christmas cheer.

With Cuyahoga County’s stay-at-home advisory in place through mid-December, DCA is presenting this year’s Winterfest as a month-long celebration of virtual and socially distanced experiences.

Public Square lit up for the Holidays.The fun started Saturday, Nov. 28 with a broadcast-only downtown lighting ceremony on WKYC-3. Subsequent events keep a semblance of tradition in accordance with CDC guidelines and state and city mandates.

Folks wanting an in-person glimpse of Public Square displays, for example, are invited to stop by for animated light and sound shows that will activate three times per hour between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m.

“It’s not designed to be a big congregation, but one of those nice moments where you’re taking in the square,” says DCA president and CEO Joe Marinucci. “We knew we couldn’t do the traditional activities, so we looked at how to create some virtual efforts.”

Santa will part of the festivities via dial-in Zoom visits, notes Marinucci. Alongside the jolly red fellow will be Fusion.Live’s Winterfest Wonderland series, featuring an online-only lineup of crafting and decorating sessions, dance parties and more.

Self-guided activities are also on this year’s menu: A month-long scavenger hunt encourages residents to tour the Gateway and Warehouse districts, while a Take a Hike historic walking tour is set to highlight Cleveland’s department stores and hotels. Meanwhile, select events—such as Public Square’s skating rink and Terminal Tower observation deck tours—have been cancelled for this year.

DCA is presenting this year’s Winterfest as a month-long celebration of virtual and socially distanced experiences.DCA is dedicated to building a dynamic downtown, even during this unprecedented moment. To that end, the nonprofit organization is putting additional emphasis on independent retailers and restaurants buckling down for a long, virus-exacerbated winter.

Marinucci points to the 100 downtown restaurants and eateries ready to safely serve the populace. Consumers concerned about COVID-19 can still order carry out or delivery—dining from the comfort of home while shopping small at locally-owned establishments.

“Heading into the winter, we know it’s important for restaurants and retailers to survive until there’s wide distribution of a vaccine,” Marinucci says. “The goal is to help them create momentum during the holidays that carries over into January, February, and March.”

Like most everyone else, Marinucci is looking forward to a happier time when people can flock downtown and enjoy the fun in person. For now, the organization will serve the community’s holiday needs to the best of its abilities.

“We’re pleased to light Public Square and deliver alternative experiences in terms of self-directed and virtual activities,” says Marinucci. “Let’s get through this period and celebrate in the way we can.”

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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