Christmas in the Park Festival

Aiden Lane, 7, and Gemma Lane, 4, try ice skating during the Christmas in the Park Festival Dec. 12 in Litchfield Park.

Rising numbers of COVID-19 cases around the West Valley—and the world, for that matter—altered but did not stop an annual holiday tradition.

The city of Litchfield Park again held Christmas in the Park ivities Dec. 12 and 13, though with a new format for “a safe and healthy environment.”

The biggest change were masks, required of ivalgoers and vendors.

Those who attended, like Aiden Lane, 7, and Gemma Lane, 4, enjoyed a rarity in Arizona: outdoor ice skating.

Litchfield Elementary School’s north lot became the North Pole, with an ice rink and holiday market. Masks were required and group sizes limited.

Meanwhile, the classrooms inside the school remain empty.

Litchfield Elementary School District is one of many districts across the West Valley that closed classrooms—and may not reopen them after a two-week holiday/winter break.

“Local health trends indicate that there is a good chance that we will remain in distance learning beyond Jan. 4,” according to a Dec. 11 Litchfield Elementary School District announcement.

“With such high rates of risk and infection in our community, we simply do not have enough available staff to keep our students safe.”

Saddle Mountain Unified School District, which closed classrooms last week and returned to online learning, also will keep its classrooms closed for the first two weeks of the next semester.

On Dec. 9, Tolleson Union High School District Superintendent Nora Gutierrez sent a letter to families stating that “online learning will continue until spring break, Friday, March 12.” Classrooms at TUHSD schools in Avondale, Tolleson and Glendale have been vacant the entire semester.

Meanwhile, vaccines are on the way. As the Maricopa County Department of Public Health noted, “For Phase 1A of the distribution plan, doses of the vaccine will be distributed to eligible healthcare personnel at five regional points of dispensing (PODs) across the county in conjunction with Abrazo Health, Banner Health, Banner Del Web, Dignity Health, HonorHealth and Valleywise Healthcare over a period of several weeks.”

After the FDA gave emergency approval, Pfizer started shipping its coronavirus vaccine throughout the country starting Dec. 14. 

Since Thanksgiving, COVID-19 transmission has accelerated through the West Valley. All of the communities in school districts are now “in the red,” meaning substantial spread of coronavirus.

Beyond school recommendations, the heightened spread of coronavirus impacted public gatherings and celebrations—which normally would be filling the 12 days of Christmas.

A sign of the changes: The Litchfield Park Christmas Parade was held this year, though hardly “as usual.”

“Welcome to our 33rd annual Christmas in the Park, and first-ever virtual parade,” said Sonny Culbreth, the master of ceremonies of what he called “a Hallmark-card kind of celebration.”

“Because of the COVID pandemic, everyone has had to find new ways to do traditional things,” he said.

He added that the parade was held virtually “so we can maintain a safe and healthy environment yet provide a hometown holiday experience.” Participants submitted parade entries and holiday wishes online.

To see the ival, visit the city website, litchfield-park.org.

Also in Litchfield Park this week, City Manager Bill Stephens will formally announce his retirement at the Litchfield Park City Council online meeting (streaming via YouTube and Zoom) at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16.

Council is expected to promote Assistant City Manager Matthew Williams to interim city manager.