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El Paso plans to adapt Winterfest amid the pandemic

Winterfest in downtown El Paso. (Credit: WinterFest Facebook){p}{/p}
Winterfest in downtown El Paso. (Credit: WinterFest Facebook)

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The holidays are right around the corner and that has the city looking into how it will hold Winterfest amid the pandemic this year.

WinterFest will run Saturday, December 5, 2020 to Sunday, January 3, 2021.

In a presentation to the El Paso City Council, the director of cultural affairs and recreation, Ben Fyffe, shared how some aspects of the holiday tradition will be changing.

According to the presentation, there won’t be ice skating or a parade at this year’s Winterfest.

Instead there will be a much bigger emphasis on virtual programming, things you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home including guided crafts you can work on at home as well as virtual performances.

“It is important for our community to have WinterFest this year in a safe and secure manner after so many cancellations and the unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19,” Deputy City Manager Tracey Jerome said. “Our City departments have come together to create virtual programming alongside holiday lights at San Jacinto Plaza that will provide families the opportunity to enjoy the holidays while still practicing good health and safety protocols.”

Downtown and other parts of the city will still be decorated for the holidays.

San Jacinto Plaza and Arts Festival Plaza will light up the heart of downtown with its popular lights, holiday tree and decorations. Paseo de las Luces and surrounding areas will display holiday décor and lights, sponsored by the Downtown Management District and other private businesses. The El Paso International Airport, in central El Paso, will also join the festivities with holiday lights and decorations.

“We ask people to practice social distancing, but that's really the reason why we're not doing the type of event that can drop tens of thousands of people downtown like the parade,” Fyffe said. “But primarily we're asking people, they can experience it by driving by San Jacinto , if they choose to actually want to walk through the park they're able to do that as well.”

It still hasn’t been decided whether or not you will be able to ride the streetcar. The city council plans to revisit that at future meetings.

At one point there was a discussion of having no funding in the budget for Winterfest at all but instead it was decided just to reduce the budget and adjust the celebrations accordingly.

Last year Winterfest took place over 6 weeks

This year the festivities will be condensed to just 4 weeks

The WinterFest season will launch with full-day virtual programming by El Paso Parks and Recreation, Museums and Cultural Affairs Department, El Paso Public Library, and El Paso Zoo. Virtual programming will include Holiday concerts, performances, and arts and crafts for the whole family.

There will also be a select offering of in-person programs, all planned with a focus on health and safety. The community is encouraged to enjoy the festive spirit from the safety of their cars and follow local and state COVID-19 health and safety protocols throughout the holiday season.

Destination El Paso will offer free Holiday Movies at the Plaza Theater from December 6 to January 3. Additional virtual programming for this year’s celebration from Quality of Life Departments, El Paso Downtown Management District and the El Paso International Airport will be announced in the coming weeks.

Many of the changes come as a combination of making this new budget work as well as deciding which events are safe to host during the pandemic.

“We also are seeing that a lot of our traditional partners, our traditional sponsors are not in a financial position to be able to actually give to this event, to be able to augment the budgets that we do have,” he said. “What we have decided to do is working together with a very reduced budget.”

Another aspect that comes along with the reduced budget is reduced staffing in many of the city’s departments.

There are nine city departments that work together on Winterfest, many of them seeing significant staff reductions due to the pandemic.

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