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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Belmont Keeps Christmas Traditions Live Even In Coronavirus Hot Spot

Belmont tree crowd.jpg
Ann Doss Helms
Dozens gathered outside Belmont City Hall on Monday for the annual tree-lighting ceremony.

Across the country, many cities and towns have resorted to virtual parades and festivities to avoid crowds where the coronavirus could spread.

But when the mayor of Belmont flipped the switch to light the Christmas tree outside City Hall on Monday, he wasn’t doing it for an online audience.

The city of about 12,500 people on Gaston County’s eastern edge blocked the street and invited people to come in person. And they did, forming a crowd that one police officer estimated at 100 to 150 — well over Gov. Roy Cooper's mandate to keep outside gatherings under 50 people.

"This is one of the largest crowds I’ve ever seen, you know? It’s amazing. Amazing," Mayor Charlie Martin said.

Belmont tree choir.jpg
Ann Doss Helms
Singers from Mount Holly's CORE Church perform Christmas carols from the steps of Belmont City Hall on Monday.

A small choir from CORE Church in nearby Mount Holly sang Christmas carols.

Speakers reminded people about COVID-19 safety rules. Most people did wear masks and kept some distance between their group and others. But it was up to individuals to decide how — or whether — to cover their face and how close to stand to others.

"I forgot that we were supposed to wear masks," Jocelyn McCarn said. She and her husband, Tim McCarn, are founding pastors of CORE Church. They said they brought their three kids — and their unmasked singers — without worrying about contagion.

"Not so much of a worry about COVID. A lot of faith, you know?" Tim McCarn said.

The McCarns said their church has a coded bracelet system that lets everyone select their own risk level.

"Green means 'I’m OK with the hug,' " Jocelyn McCarn explained. "Yellow means 'I’m still keeping my distance' and red means 'Please stay away.' So it’s been nice — everybody has a bracelet on so we can kind of look and know how everyone wants to communicate."

Lord's Going To Take Care

Belmont is a town that loves its holiday traditions. But it’s also located in a county that the state has designated a COVID-19 hot spot. The latest tally has Gaston County at 578 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days. That’s almost three times the level that state health officials consider critical community spread.

Mayor Martin said the most important thing is to celebrate the birth of Jesus, while taking reasonable precautions against the coronavirus.

"Long as people are wearing masks and social distancing, I don’t have a problem with that," he said after the ceremony. "It’s outside, too. If it was inside and stuff like that I’d be worried. I’m not worried about it. Lord’s going to take care of us."

Cruise-Thru Christmas

Belmont parade.jpg
Ann Doss Helms
Belmont's "Cruise-Thru Christmas" parade had stationary floats with vehicles driving past.

On Tuesday afternoon, Belmont held its annual Christmas parade — in person, but with a twist.

Local businesses and elected officials waved and greeted people from floats. But instead of moving along Main Street with crowds jamming the sidewalks, the floats were parked in the northbound lane while spectators drove by in the southbound lane.

Belmont parade Santa.jpg
Ann Doss Helms
Santa Claus waves as vehicles reach the end of Belmont's drive-by Christmas parade.

The “Cruise-Thru Christmas” parade was definitely scaled back: No marching bands, no Shriners hot-dogging in miniature vehicles, no one tossing candy to kids. But in a season where the Macy's Thanksgiving parade allowed no spectators and Charlotte merely televised highlight clips of previous Carousel parades, Belmont's real-life event drew heavy traffic. Vehicles that came to the suggested access point off Wilkinson Boulevard at the 3:30 p.m. start time spent more than 45 minutes inching seven-tenths of a mile to the first floats.

In addition to celebrating Christmas, both the parade and the tree-lighting ceremonies served as opportunities for the Montcross Area Chamber of Commerce to urge people to patronize downtown Belmont's shops and restaurants.

Christmas Town Scales Back

Meanwhile, just a few miles west, McAdenville launched its famous Christmas Town USA light display Tuesday night. But in that Gaston County town, the tree-lighting ceremony was canceled this year, and the lake that’s normally a focal point of the display will remain dark to discourage pedestrian traffic.

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