With A Nudge From COVID-19, Charlotte Christmas Village Finds New Illuminating Location
It would have been understandable if Paul Claus opted not to hold the Charlotte Christmas Village this year. Given the logistical and safety challenges, the spread of the coronavirus and simply all the unknowns, it would have been completely acceptable to just pause for one year until the world seemed somewhat normal, again.
But Claus (yes, that is his real name) and his wife, Dena Bruton-Claus, already had been working on moving the Christmas Village for the third time in its five-year existence. The founders of the event had plans and a vision
“We wanted to try to do the event if we felt like we could do it in a reasonable manner,” Claus said
They’d contacted the Charlotte Knights a year ago, before anyone knew about something called COVID-19, about using the minor league baseball team’s Truist Field as a possible site to hold the walkthrough holiday experience of crafting, tchotchke and food booths. In previous years, the Charlotte Christmas Village had been held at Romare Bearden Park and a vacant lot at Tryon and 7th streets, but those had never been permanent locations.
As talks continued with the Knights over whether and how to have the village at the stadium, the spread of the coronavirus worsened and improved and then began to take its current most troublesome turn.
Claus wasn’t sure whether it would really work to try to hold any event around the Christmas holidays, as eager as he was for Charlotte residents to sip on gluhwein, the mulled wine that has become an annual Christmas Village tradition.
But the Knights had held a handful of socially distanced, outdoor events at Truist Field over the summer and had some experience. They felt confident
“One of the last steps was they called the county about two months out as cases were increasing around the country and said, ‘Are we OK?’” Claus said. “And they said, ‘We like your protocols and the precautions that you're taking. We think you're OK.’”
So the Charlotte Christmas Village is, indeed, on this year. Because it’s held in a stadium, the capacity is larger than the 50-person outdoor gathering limit currently in place in North Carolina (NC's outdoor stadium limits are 7% of total capacity). And because there are tickets to the event this year for the first time ($7-10 per person), organizers can manage the crowd size to allow for a safe gathering in this most unusual of holiday seasons.
Masks are required, hand sanitizer is everywhere, and tables where people can pause to munch on snacks are at least 6 feet apart.
“We feel like with being able to control the crowds and having the room to spread out, people seem to be responding to it,” Claus said. “We've been selling to our capacity in the evenings because of the light show. And the Knights did a great job with that aspect of the event.”
Yes, maybe you’ve seen the light show on your Instagram feed. The Light the Knights aspect of the event is the Charlotte Knights’ contribution and has been a visual hit as festive lights throughout the stadium outfield frame the Charlotte skyline to create an illuminating experience.
There are fewer vendors at the village market this year, Claus said, which was partly an executive call.
“As we looked at the space, we didn't want to always be narrow (through the concourse),” he said. “So there are places where we could have put more tents and we decided not to do that this year.”
Some vendors couldn’t travel from out of state or out of the country this year, which also cut down on booths. But the ones who are there are thrilled with the event.
“The vendors are so thankful because many of them haven't had an opportunity to do any kind of festival affair since March,” Claus said. “So they're thankful. They're glad to see the people and we were glad to be able to do it. This is our fifth year and we didn't want to skip a year if we didn't absolutely have to.”
Plus, it’s a tiny bit of traditional festive fun in this untraditional holiday season.
“There’s a shortage of things to do in this holiday season,” Claus said. “The indoor craft shows were canceled. You can only have so many people in an outdoor restaurant, but because of the fact that we're in a stadium, we're able to do the event with lots of room. And, you know, it's been great for families. You know, we’re sort of a combination of food-and-shopping event. It's kind of a total experience.”
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