Holiday tree lighting at National Harbor brings seasonal sparkle to a tough year

Holiday traditions are adjusting to the pandemic, much like other commemorations and celebrations this year. But the lights and sparkle of the Christmas tree at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Maryland, are just as bright as past years.

But unfortunately, in 2020, the character portrayed in a Dr. Seuss book showed up in the form of a virus nicknamed “Rona.”

“This is the year the Grinch stole Christmas,” National Harbor’s Director of Marketing Deborah Topcik said.

Topcik says National Harbor is a part of many people’s holiday traditions, and they want to keep as many familiar pieces in place as possible.

“There’s definitely things that people are used to [that] are not here this year. We don’t have fireworks…but there’s still a great 56-foot tree that we would love for guests to come and get their family pictures taken and see it—and the light show,” Topcik says.

The fully decorated tree is situated in its usual spot, where Waterfront Street meets American Way.

At first, a different grinch—one called technical difficulties—stalled Saturday’s plans for a light show, complete with bits of snow every a half-hour show starting at dusk. But, alas, there was a gasp of delight when the tree brightened up from its monochromatic blue slumber.

The holiday music cranked up a short time later, along with the light show, and eyes were transfixed on the tree’s dancing lights. Meanwhile, some children also found amusement taking in the lights and dancing to the tunes.

For one couple that makes a trip from Leesburg, Virginia, to see the tree each year, it’s a moment of family tradition and normalcy.

“It’s been a tough time, and I know they’re going to probably have a lockdown pretty soon. We always hope for the best with 2020,” said Michael Ripa.

“Just brings us some joy, you know,” His wife Elizabeth Ripa added.

Another couple was visiting from North Carolina and came to town to celebrate a local family member’s birthday.

Monique and McKinley Phillips said they’re comforted by the stringent mask requirement. In Prince George’s County, they must be worn away from home—whether indoors or outdoors.

“I think it’s going pretty good—as long as everybody’s wearing their masks,” Monique Phillips said.

“Some places I’ve been to—a lot of people don’t care to wear them or won’t wear them. So it’s good to be in this area and see the people being required to wear a mask—which is very important,” McKinley Phillips said.

There are also plenty of social distancing markers along the sidewalks reminding visitors to stay at least six feet apart from others.

Saturday night was the first tree lighting of the holiday season. The tree will be illuminated every evening at dusk through Jan. 3.

And the light show “goes off every half hour—every night. So you don’t just have to come here on a Saturday night. You can come on a Friday night, or a Tuesday night or a Wednesday night, and enjoy the restaurants and shopping,” Topcik said.

The light show happens every 30 minutes from sundown until 9 p.m. Get more information about the light show and other holiday events at the National Harbor’s website.

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