Story by Adam Black
Photos courtesy Friends of Portsmouth
After several events in the region have been canceled due to the pandemic, Winterfest’s organizers have announced the holiday festival will go on this year in downtown Portsmouth.
The festival, which draws a large crowd to the southern Ohio town along the Ohio River and named a Hallmark Channel Hometown Christmas Town in 2019, has started a family tradition for residents that will continue this year — just in an altered state. While plans could change, organizers are determined to bring the more than a month-long festival to reality, including Christmas shops, food vendors and an ice-skating rink.
Friends of Portsmouth members took to social media via Facebook Live to announce that Winterfest 2020 would take place this year, despite COVID-19.
“Winterfest is going to look a little different this year than what’s expected,” said Friends of Portsmouth Executive Director Tim Wolfe. “It is not canceled. We are working closely with the health department on what we can and can’t do to keep everyone safe.”
Along with shops, food and ice skating, the festival also features live music, meets with Santa Claus and decks the halls of Portsmouth with twinkling Christmas lights and a large decorated Christmas tree.
Wolfe explained some changes that will occur at this year’s event, including limiting the number of skaters in the rink at a time. Wolfe shared the event is allowed to have 50 people in one area at a time, but to make sure everyone remains safe and socially distanced, they are only allowing 40 people in the rink.
“We are going to limit the number of people in the rink to 40 and then we are going to have time slots for the rink,” Wolfe said.
In the video, Wolfe also stated other events would be altered from previous years due to the pandemic, including meeting with Santa and food and craft vendors. Vendors will be set up inside the buildings on Market Street, and the capacity of each vendor’s shop will be monitored.
“It will be just like when you go to your favorite mall or whatever, we’ll have a person counting as they come in, so there will be a limit of how many people are in,” Friends of Portsmouth member Sara Mauk said. “We will also have food trucks spaced out and again will be limited to people in line at one given time.”
Wolfe and Mauk stressed organizers are working closely with the health department on recommendations per COVID-19 statistics.
“We will be enforcing whatever things are required at the time, so if it’s face masks or social distancing or whatever else is decided in December, we will follow,” Mauk said.
Wolfe also shared information about the tree lighting ceremony and parade that normally kicks off Winterfest’s opening. Wolfe stated the parade was still in the planning phase and would most likely look different compared to years past.
“We plan to kick this year off on Nov. 28, with our tree lighting ceremony,” Wolfe said. “Typically, we would have a parade to down here and then we would light the tree. Right now, we are working with the health department and we will put those details out as we get them.”
Wolfe shared once the tree is lit, Winterfest will officially open and time slots for the rink will be available to reserve, along with shops and food vendors opening.
“This is just a work in progress,” Mauk said. “We want to make sure we are able to give you something safely and in accordance with the state and the city. Things are subject to change week to week, but our goal is to have a Winterfest of some sort.”