Dover welcomes 2020 holiday season in a different way

Alex Brewer, 4, hangs his wish on the wish tree in front of the Dover Public Library. In the background is Dover Public Library Head of Youth Service Susan Elizabeth Cordle. Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller

DOVER — Even the Grinch of 2020, that also goes by the name of COVID-19, could not extinguish the holiday spirit in downtown Dover Friday night at the Capital Holiday Celebration.

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen, along with some helpers and Santa Claus himself, officially lit the city’s Christmas tree — both live in front of City Hall and online — and the bearded man in the red suit was seen checking to make sure the children were on their best behavior on the sidewalks off Loockerman Street.

Mayor Christiansen noted that even though this is quite a different time in history, it remains a time for family and celebration.

“This year has brought changes many of us could never dream of,” said Mayor Christiansen. “Plans have changed, loved ones have been lost, and now we only see the eyes of people as we don masks to try to protect our fellow man. I have to trust that there are still smiles behind those masks as not all is lost.

“It is our hope that you and yours will create new traditions, value that time with family and friends even more, and be grateful and thankful for those who you surround yourself either virtually or in your home.”

Downtown Dover was in all its splendor after the tall trees came to their bright holiday life in front of City Hall just after 6 p.m.

With the number of new COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in recent weeks and breaking records, the cautious crowd that gathered was much smaller than it usually is in other more traditional years — but this year has been anything but traditional.

Jitka Ellis was out enjoying the sights with her daughter Stella Rose, both wearing flashing holiday necklaces with Christmas headbands high on their heads.

“We’re not planning on spreading the COVID,” Ms. Ellis said. “It’s kind of sad, especially when the conditions are getting worse again and kids are back again at the online school and it’s not hybrid anymore … and pretty much there is nothing happening for them. We are trying to avoid the crowds. We’ll personally be away from the crowds.

Shoppers at the Downtown Dover Capital Holiday Celebration on Loockerman Street on Friday afternoon.

“But you know, we have to still do it for the kids, even when they conditions are what they are.”

Susan Elizabeth Cordle, head of youth services at the Dover Public Library, noted that they weren’t seeing very many children, as only about 30 families had visited to pick up free “craft-in-a-bags” by 5 p.m. that included either a candy cane Christmas ornament, a snowman bookmark with crayons inside or an Olaf (snowman from “Frozen”) headband craft that also had crayons and coloring pages inside.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t had as many (children) as we were hoping for,” Ms. Cordle said, “But with the changes in the numbers of COVID, people are staying in more. We did make 75 bags of each craft and we feel like giving some away is better than none.”

Children were also invited to drop their letter in a mailbox to Santa at the library.

The Christmas spirit could really be felt on the sidewalks off Loockerman Street towards Loockerman Plaza as the celebration went on.

The four-piece Fig Tree Band performed their signature instrumental jazz fusion “holiday-style.”

“We’re playing some Christmas music along with some originals that we’re currently producing, so it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Brian August, keyboardist for the band. “I’m very excited. It’s been a while since we’ve had a gig, with COVID and everything. So we’re going to have some fun and have some Christmas spirit everywhere.”

The storefront windows were all decorated in the theme of “Holiday Wishes” to add even more ambiance to the evening. All that was missing was a little bit of snow, as temperatures were at a Frosty the Snowman melting, yet comfortable, 50 degrees.

This month’s merchant window theme also supports the “Downtown Story-Walk” that features the book “The Wish Tree,” copies of which may be found at the library. Poster-sized pages of the book are featured in downtown windows, and one page leads the viewer to the next.

A line quickly formed in front of 33 West’s Brandon Pelton who was inside his new food truck “Gastro Graffiti” at the corner of South Bradford and Loockerman streets. Volunteers handed out holiday lollipops to adults and children alike, who were all safely hidden behind face masks.

Volunteers also collected nonperishable food items to benefit local food pantries alongside a truck in front of the library
Diane Laird, executive director of the Downtown Dover Partnership noted it was a dual event on Friday night, as downtown Dover’s monthly First Friday melded with the Capital Holiday Celebration.

“The show must go on … and is going on, and that’s the most exciting thing about it,” Ms. Laird said. “The weather is good and COVID is not impacting anything we did, because we took very careful planning measures to make sure that regardless of what new policies might come down, it wasn’t going to affect tonight.

“I’m just so thrilled to see so many people coming and going. There’s definitely a holiday buzz in the air.”