COVID-19 may have canceled a lot of things in 2020, but it is not canceling Christmas in Hermiston.

The city is making an effort to provide some holiday cheer despite restrictions on gatherings.

On Monday, Nov. 30, the city installed its annual giant Christmas tree on the festival street downtown. With the help of equipment and workers from Umatilla Electric Cooperative, the city removed the tree from a local home and brought it downtown, where it was “planted” on Northeast Second Street next to city hall, in preparation for decorating.

City residents won’t be able to gather in person to celebrate the tree’s lighting this year, but Parks and Recreation Director Larry Fetter said the city plans to livestream a tree-lighting event on its social media platforms from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 3. The program will include caroling, reading Christmas stories and Santa Claus throwing the switch to light the tree.

“It will be a little like the old radio days, sitting by the fire listening to the Christmas program,” Fetter said.

Afterward, people will be able to come down on their own time to take photos with the tree, which will be lit up each night throughout the month.

This year’s tree was donated by Brenda and Whitley Smith of Hermiston, from their yard. Brenda said the tree was there when they bought the house about 29 years ago, and it’s “grown pretty big” in the years since. The Smiths were concerned about its growth into the nearby power lines, Fetter offered to take it off their hands for free and give it new life as the downtown Christmas tree, they took the offer.

“We decided it was probably time to let other people enjoy it,” Brenda said.

She said she drove down after UEC removed the tree and installed it downtown, and she was proud to see it there.

“It looks nice,” she said. “We’re kind of excited other people get to enjoy it. We’ve enjoyed watching the birds in it. They’ll be surprised it’s not there anymore, but they’ll adjust, I suppose.”

After the tree is done serving its purpose downtown, it will be chopped up for firewood and donated to the Agape House.

Although people are asked to watch the Christmas tree lighting virtually, the Hermiston Downtown District will still hold its First Thursday event. Downtown merchants will have sales for Ladies’ Day from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 3.

Festival of Lights

Out at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center on the south end of Hermiston, the city-owned facility is offering its own holiday cheer this year with the rebirth of the Festival of Lights.

When the Umatilla County Fair was located on Orchard Avenue, the fairgrounds there used to be turned into a winter wonderland of lights and decorations, complete with vendors and other activities, each December. The event was eventually canceled in 2013 due to lack of volunteers.

The tradition has been revived this year. People can drive through the new fairgrounds at EOTEC, 1705 E. Airport Road, to see the light displays from 5-10 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays, and 5-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. EOTEC General Manager Al Davis said it should take people about 15 minutes to drive through.

Davis said they originally set the lights up for people to walk through, but made changes when the state initially went into a two-week “freeze” on gatherings for COVID-19.

“We’ve had to adjust on the fly,” Davis said.

Entrance is by donation, with half the donations benefiting Rotary Club and the other half going to various nonprofits and toward more lights for future Festival of Lights events. Davis said they were able to reuse a few of the decorations from the original Festival of Lights, but most of the lights are brand new, and they hope each year to use proceeds from the previous year to add to the collection, eventually covering all 60 acres at EOTEC.

“People don’t realize, Christmas lights are expensive,” he said.

Other events

Some other annual Christmas events will also go on. While the fate of Pancakes with Santa is still undecided, the annual Holiday Christmas Bazaar will take place Saturday, Dec. 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In light of COVID-19 safety, the bazaar will take place outdoors in the parking lot of the Hermiston Community Center, 415 S. Highway 395, with social distancing measures in place.

Also at the community center parking lot is the annual Kiwanis Club tree sale. The trees are available on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the rest of the week from noon to 8 p.m.

The club has 400 trees available, and the sale will end when they are gone. Trees are Douglas firs, Grand firs and Noble firs from 5 to 8 feet tall, starting at $30.

Proceeds benefit Kiwanis Club projects, including supplies for foster children, youth scholarships, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, highway cleanups and more.

The Kiwanis Club and Good Shepherd Community Health have canceled the Festival of the Trees this year, but are still raising money for a good cause. They solicited donations for the Hermiston Police Department’s Christmas Express, which provides boxes of food and gifts for families in need. According to a news release they will donate about $3,000 to Christmas Express “through the generous support of several businesses.”

As part of that effort, Kiwanis Club is going to virtually auction off a tree, which is on display downtown at Two96Main, located at 296 Main St. A link to bid on the tree is here:32auctions.com/kiwanischristmastree.

Residents can still drop off nonperishable food for Christmas Express in the community center parking lot until Dec. 11 (except for Sunday, Dec. 6) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. No glass containers.

The Hermiston Parks and Recreation Department and Hermiston Library are offering a variety of holiday activities throughout the month. Adults can pick up a Christmas Mouse craft kit from the library.

The parks department is offering “Elf of the Shelf” kits (elf not included) with ideas and activities for those who participate in that tradition. Residents can also order a “Christmas at home” kit by Dec. 4 with ornament crafts, coloring pages, a family game and a letter to Santa activity. The department is collecting recommendations of the best Christmas lights in Umatilla County for a map it plans to publish. For more information about parks and recreation holiday offerings, visit the department’s Facebook page or call 541-667-5018.

Other cities

In Boardman, the chamber of commerce is advertising that its annual Christmas tree lighting will be broadcast live on its Facebook page on Saturday, Dec. 5, from 6-7 p.m.

After the tree is lit, families and individuals will be able to visit the SAGE Center, 101 Olsen Road, to drive through and see the tree and light show. The SAGE Center has announced it is canceling its annual Winter Market bazaar.

The Echo Toy Run will still take place on Dec. 5 as well, with motorcyclists driving toys from downtown Echo to Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston merely asked to not gather together at the drop-off site (see page A6 for more details).

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