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Christmas tree lighting at Portland's Pioneer Square goes virtual

The 36th annual holiday tradition at Pioneer Courthouse Square will not be in-person because of COVID-19. You can watch the tree lighting on KGW at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
Credit: Pioneer Courthouse Square
Christmas tree lit at Pioneer Courthouse Square

PORTLAND, Ore. — Spreading joy, not germs. That's the goal behind this year's Christmas tree lighting at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Because of COVID-19, organizers will not be holding an in-person tree lighting. Instead, they’re asking people to stay home and watch the event on KGW.

The tree lighting has been a Portland tradition for 35 years, drawing thousands of people who stand shoulder-to-shoulder. Now, the mere sight of large group gatherings is enough to make some feel uneasy because of the pandemic.

Earlier this month, Pioneer Courthouse Square officials announced this year's tree lighting, presented by Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon, will be virtual. Starting at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 27, KGW will broadcast an hour-long special featuring a caroling sing-along with Pink Martini. Lyrics will appear on the TV screen and will also be available to download. The tree will still be at the square to enjoy in-person later. Still, some people such as Tyler Mann are disappointed.

“It will never be the same as being in person and hearing the people singing and proclaiming ‘Peace on earth, good will toward man,’” said Mann. “We need to remember those words, especially now.”

In a statement, Pioneer Courthouse Square Board President Ron Stewart said, "While we are currently physically separated, the square is determined to bring our community together virtually for a very special night of music and holiday celebration."

Sara Isca is trying to stay positive about the change of plans.

“Yeah, we'll definitely be watching,” said Isca, who had initially planned to attend the tree lighting with her family. “I’m so ready for COVID to be over. I want it to feel normal again and it doesn't feel normal.”

It's hard to know when things will feel normal, but organizers hope taking precautions like this one will make it a little bit sooner.

Watch: Pioneer Square live camera

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