LEAVENWORTH, Wash. - The Village of Leavenworth, tucked away in the Cascade Mountains, is internationally known as the "Christmas Town." Several thousands of people make a trip to the Bavarian-themed town as part of their holiday traditions. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how Leavenworth and its people celebrate the season.
"It’s not what we’re used to," said Dennis Dunham, comparing Leavenworth’s current state to previous celebrations. "It’s just packed. I mean, it takes you about an hour, hour and a half to just walk here and back. And today we did it in about 20 minutes."
More than half a million lights in the downtown park are still on, but the rest of annual celebrations are off. For the first time since 1966, the widely popular Christmas Lighting Festival was canceled due to the pandemic. Not only is Leavenworth scaling back to reduce exposure, but so are visitors to protect themselves and their loved ones.
"One of them is in the hospital in Seattle fighting for his life. So, we don’t want to deal with that with another family member," said Bertha Contreras, referring to a cousin who is battling COVID-19.
"It’s kind of sad, but it’s more important to keep people safe," said Leah Holmes, who frequently visits Leavenworth during the summer.
Though the village’s economy relies on tourism dollars, Mayor Carl Florea said safety during these uncertain times has priority over tourism.
"Quite frankly, we hope it’s a little quieter. We want to be welcoming, but we also want people to be safe and we know the kind of crowds that we normally would have would be basically packed shoulder to shoulder," said Florea. "We don’t want to be the cause of more pain and more stress. That goes against that whole spirit of Christmas."
The spirit has gone virtual to still offer some holiday cheer. A Livestream Webcam is available for viewers to see the downtown park lights, which will be turned on every evening through Valentine’s Day. The first-ever Leavenworth Village of Lights Advent Calendar offers prize giveaways. Plus, the village created an Online Holiday Gift Giving Guide from local shops.
"It’s about the community being safe, it’s about the workers being safe and it’s about the guests being safe. All of those we feel a responsibility for," said Florea.
Tiffany Abraham, manager at The Bubblery, said she hopes the gift-giving guide (among other things) will encourage customers to support small businesses beyond the holidays. She said many local stores are trying to survive the impacts of the pandemic.
"I hope that there is a still a movement after this. It isn’t just about shopping for Christmas. It’s also about the support after Christmas is gone," said Abraham. "As long as we can keep all the small businesses running down here there will be a Leavenworth to come back to in the future."
"I’m a big person that believes in hope and we see that light at the end of the tunnel," said Florea. "If it can make us stronger, more resilient, more dedicated to each other that’s the silver lining and that’s what we have to cling to until we can celebrate full-on in the coming year."