A global pandemic isn’t going to stop Santa Claus from coming to the Town of Marana.
The Marana Town Council is moving forward with plans to host their annual holiday celebrations, but modifying problematic social distancing aspects so event-goers can enjoy the show from the comfort of their motor vehicle.
The solution: Drive-thru Christmas festivities throughout December.
Town of Marana Communications Director Vic Hathaway presented several alternatives for this year’s holiday festival at last week’s council meeting, including an online celebration and a scaled down version of the traditional event. The yuletide drive-thru received the best response from the mayor and council as a way to ensure the safety of the attending public and town staff facilitating the event.
“I don’t want to not have anything and I think just doing the tree and the music is almost like not having anything,” Mayor Ed Honea said during last week’s council meeting. “You could have people in their cars, kids can wave at Santa, they can get a bag of goodies, candy canes, an ornament or something. At least we have some kind of event keeping people safe but also getting people out.”
The festival’s traditional holiday attractions—such as the lighting of the Christmas tree, Santa’s Workshop and the Winter Wonderland area—would still be available but reformatted to adhere to social distancing and gathering guidelines set forth by the CDC, Pima County and Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order requiring masks and restricting gatherings of more than 50 people. The annual celebration would be in the CDC’s Highest Risk category for holding events due to potential overcrowding, should it take place in its traditional form, according to Hathaway.
“Whether it’s a two-hour or three-hour window as people are coming through slowly, the tree show would be running over and over again,” Hathaway said. “They’ll have a chance to see that show in a nice way that holds on to the heart of the event, but prevents any crowding or close contact issues.”
Hathaway estimates more than 5,000 Southern Arizonans attend the town’s winter festival each year, which is typically held on the first Saturday of December. Honea foresees a potential “nightmare” in trying to enforce social distancing practices and mask wearing if the event were to be held traditionally.
“Most people will be good citizens whether they agree with the mask concept or not. If we require them to wear one, they’ll wear one,” Honea said. “But there will be that 20 percent who won’t. Do we really want our staff and police out here being the mask police? I mean, that’s why I didn’t do a mask ordinance.”
While the details of the festival’s planned drive-thru are still being ironed out by town officials, Hathaway did present a potential route for the event which would be coordinated in concert with the town’s traffic engineering staff and the Marana Police Department, she said.
“One idea we’re looking at is coming down Marana’s Main Street, passing MHC Healthcare so you get the full tableau of the town hall with the lights and then going up around the roundabout and back out,” Hathaway said.
As the town presses on with the annual holiday hootenanny, don’t expect to see many advertisements for it. Councilmember Jon Post advised against announcing the celebration throughout Pima County during last week’s meeting. The Marana Pumpkin Patch owner knows a thing or two about organizing county-wide holiday events and he believes this one should be directed predominantly toward Marana residents, he said.
“I personally think we can have a great event that could be the talk of Southern Arizona,” Post said during the meeting. “Having said that, I don’t think we would want to do any advertising. I think we want to keep it low-key to make it so that it’s a local event for Marana residents.”
Honea agreed with Post and made the suggestion to only advertise through various homeowner associations in the town’s limits.
Marana Town Manager Jamsheed Mehta offered a word of caution on holding the ambitious event in an effort to make sure the safety of town employees assisting event-goers comes first and the event as a whole would be safe, regardless of the turnout.
“We could be the talk of Arizona, but I hope it’s not on the negative side,” Mehta said. “Because there is no other municipality that is planning on doing an event of this magnitude.”