By Avery Newmark, For the AJC
Madison Grey for (CNT) City News and Talk #local-all
Christmas in 2020 promises to be much different than the annual celebrations of years past. With social distancing in effect, and so many traditions either cancelled or changed to accommodate the pandemic, the question becomes: What will our first Christmas look like in a year with so many changes?
In a word — smaller. Our holiday events and plans in 2020 will all have to be more intimate than ever, as we modify nearly every facet of the holiday season. But that doesn’t mean grandma’s sweet potato casserole is off the menu just yet. All this Christmas season needs is some good old fashioned creativity.
The Big Day
When it comes to your big day-of holiday gatherings in 2020, it’s your call on how to handle the guest list. The CDC does not have a limit on the specific number of people who can or should be at your gathering. But, as they point out: gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people. Whether to invite grandma or fire up the trusty Zoom call is a case-by-case decision that should factor in the spread of COVID-19 in your area. No matter who is coming over, you should ensure that your holiday plans follow the CDC tips for hosting and attending gatherings.
For many families and friends, holiday togetherness requires significant travel; a hard to determine risk during the pandemic. Airlines and hotels, for their part, have taken extra precautions to limit the spread of the virus, and while high risk consumers are likely to stay home in 2020, lower risk travelers may seek the service industry providers who communicate precautions and changes.
Paul Puzzanghero, Managing Director of Loews Atlanta Hotel is one of the service industry leaders grappling with the emerging balance of service and safety in the face of COVID-19:
“We understand that over the course of the year, the way people travel and what they look for when they travel has changed. We’ve taken every precaution to ensure that our guests feel comfortable and, most important, safe when staying with us,” he says.
The fact is, for all of the precautions Atlanta’s hotels and airlines have taken, holiday travel will likely be down from years prior. The CDC cautions that travel increases the chances of contracting and spreading Covid-19.
With so many more locals set to stay in Atlanta than years prior, the possibility should exist for a surge in restaurant traffic this holiday season.
“I don’t think we will see the exodus that we normally see the week of Christmas since less people are traveling,” says chef Kevin Gillespie. “Christmas Eve is likely to be very busy for restaurants and the day after Christmas, which is usually very slow, is probably going to be a good day. We might even do better on those days than in years past.”
That surge in local patronage may serve as a counterbalance to shrinking group sizes.
“Historically, restaurants rely on the big group holiday parties this time of year,” says Gillespie. “We won’t be seeing those this year. Hopefully we make up for it with the smaller tables of people who would normally be out of town.”
Beyond the standard holiday dinners are Atlanta’s numerous holiday pop-up experiences, most of which will open for business in 2020. The Sippin’ Santa pop-up is scheduled to take place at Golden Eagle and Bon Ton, and Miracle Bar will take place at the Fox Theatre’s Marquee Club, Parish and Wonderkid.
For all of the instagrammable moments available, the CDC still recommends caution when drinking and dining in public during the pandemic. Please check the restaurant’s website and social channels to see if they have updated their information to address any COVID-19 safety guidelines, wash your hands regularly, and wear masks when less than six feet apart from other people or indoors.
Mall Santa and Holiday Traditions
In a sign of the times, Macy’s announced in October that for the first time in 159 years, Santa would not be available to visit and take photographs with children at the New York City flagship store, among several other Santa cancellations. In place, Macy’s will offer Santaland, a free online hub for holiday magic.
And this year, from the creators of Santa’s Fantastical and PictureU, is JingleRing. A live, virtual visit from Santa available from the comfort of your home.
Locally, though, the in-person plans for mall Santa Claus are a go. Santa is scheduled to meet and greet the children of Atlanta, albeit with COVID-safe precautions and a reservation, at Phipps Plaza alongside Lennox, Cumberland, and North Point Malls among others.
If your little ones are more about Elsa from “Frozen” than the “Miracle on 34th Street,” The Roof at Ponce City Market offers family hours from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on weekends, where kids can skate and sing with The Roof’s resident Ice Queen.
If anything is for certain this holiday season, it has got to be online shopping having its biggest year ever. Many of the nation’s largest retailers have extended their deal seasons into week or month long events, and shifted to in-store and online sales alike.
But lost in that push towards online shopping during the pandemic are the untold costs; the financial uncertainty of countless Atlanta families this year, and the shrinking ability for small, local businesses to connect with customers during what is normally their most important sales cycle.
“All in all, it is a difficult time to be a small business,” says Malene Davis, owner of designer collective the beehive. “We were fortunate to be one of the few businesses in Georgia to secure a PPP and EIDL loan from the federal government, but the amounts given did not come close to the revenues we normally would have earned in a single quarter. While we’ll be open for business as usual, for this holiday season, we plan to focus our energy on online sales. But tenacity, innovation, and the “go getter” attitude that comes with being an entrepreneur is how we have survived – and will continue to survive – as a small business in Atlanta.”
So, while we rush towards online shopping in an attempt to socially distance this holiday season, entrepreneurs like Davis hope that consumers remember the small, local businesses fighting tooth and nail to survive the most unprecedented economic conditions possibly in our lifetime.
Stories like hers, and the countless others around the city of local businesses and families making necessary changes, but struggling with historic uncertainty should serve as reminder to focus this holiday season on what matters most: togetherness in spirit, thankfulness for what we do have, and celebration of life in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.