Beloved holiday traditions return to Seattle area after COVID hiatus

The pandemic is not yet over, but one sign that things are getting a little more back to business as usual is that some of the Seattle area’s most beloved holiday traditions will be back in-person this year.

After a virtual broadcast in 2020, the Westlake Center tree lighting will happen in front of crowds again this Saturday evening.

“People can go and see the tree-lighting happen on [Nov.] 27th,” said Kelly Hatfield, public relations manager for Visit Seattle. “That’s something that we really missed out on last year, and it’s coming back.”

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If you are willing to run uphill on Pine Street ahead of the Westlake tree lighting, you can catch Pike Place Market turning on its colorful lights for Magic in the Market at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

The in-person hiatus is over for the Nutcracker at McCaw Hall, which will welcome back live audiences, and Winterfest at Seattle Center, which will feature ice sculpting, a winter train and village, performances, and more.

Brave the cold to hear caroling, see twinkling lights, and watch the Argosy Christmas Ship sailing up and down the Puget Sound. It will make stops each night in parks along the Seattle and Lake Washington waterfront.

Wild Lanterns is back at Woodland Park Zoo, but with some surprises.

“It’s different this year,” Hatfield said. “So, if you went last year, it’s the same really cool, large-scale animals and nature-scape lanterns, but they’re not the exact same as last year.”

She said that new for Seattle are festive light sculptures in Westlake Park, along with an augmented reality experience downtown Seattle — a kind of Yuletide “Pokémon Go.”

Hatfield said that the seasonal splendor should help light up the dark winter days 20 months into the pandemic.

“I hope everyone feels that joy and that spirit this year,” she said. “We all need it.”

Visit seattleholidays.com to get all the most up-to-date information, including COVID restrictions at different events.

For those on King County’s Eastside, the holiday season will also feel a little more like “the old days” of 2019. Some of the most iconic seasonal events downtown Bellevue are making a return.

“It’s a great opportunity for families, it makes for a wonderful date night,” said Patrick Bannon, president of the Bellevue Downtown Association. “You can take in Snowflake Lane and go skating and then go to Garden D’Lights, and you get a little bit of everything.”

After a modified 2020, the nightly Snowflake Lane parade is back in its original form, with a light show, falling “snow,” and elves and nutcrackers dancing to favorite carols.

Also making a comeback this year after a virtual-only 2020 is the dazzling Garden d’Lights display at the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

“Volunteers create lighted animals and other ornaments throughout the gardens,” Bannon said. “There’s a surprise around every corner, so it’s literally hundreds of thousands of lights.”

The Nutcracker and other festive shows will be back at the Meydenbauer Center, and Bellevue’s Downtown Park will host the Bellevue Downtown Ice Rink for the first time since 2019.

“It’s open on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, so a great opportunity if the family needs to get out or you’re wanting a little bit of exercise — burn off calories or burn off extra stress during the holiday season,” Bannon said.

Skating rookie? No problem — lessons are free.

While the holiday events are back in their original form, there will still be some changes due to the pandemic. Tickets for the ice rink and garden must be purchased ahead of time, as capacity will be limited. Masking will be mandatory at some events. And for all indoor performances, such as the Meydenbauer shows, vaccination or tests will be required as per King County regulations.

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