Holiday season

Providence tree lighting kicks off the holiday season – and hope for downtown

PROVIDENCE – For businesses in downtown Providence, there were many times during the pandemic that felt like a prolonged and ruthless winter. Some have closed permanently. Others have remained, but are nothing more than a shell of what they once were. Hundreds of restaurant workers haven’t returned to the industry, offices haven’t fully reopened, so employees don’t visit their favorite lunch spots when working remotely. And business travelers, who typically book annual meetings at the Convention Center and fill hotels during the week, have been scarce.

But recently there have been unmistakable signs of an economic recovery.

More than 95% of the state’s adult population has received at least one injection of the COVID-19 vaccine, and the state holds more than $ 1 billion in federal funds that could help fuel nonprofits on the front lines of almost every crisis, building homes for those left on the streets, investing in schools and state labor. Funds are a chance, if administered strategically, to provide opportunities for those who have generally been left behind.

And on Friday night, an economic rebound seemed at hand when nearly 120 residents and leaders gathered outside City Hall for the Tree of Providence lighting ceremony for the first time since December 2019.

Two-and-a-half-year-old Talia David takes the stage at the annual Tree Lighting at Providence Town Hall.Erin Clark / Globe Staff
Santa is raising five children while attending the annual tree lighting at Providence Town Hall.
Santa is raising five children while attending the annual tree lighting at Providence Town Hall.Erin Clark / Globe Staff

A tree “means different things to different people … I see it as a symbol of hope,” said city council president John Igliozzi. “A privileged moment to meet up with family and friends. And be kind to each other… more than ever before. This COVID pandemic has been tough on us all. “

He added, “Let us not forget the loved ones we have lost and those who have struggled. It will get better. This country is a great place to live. And this city is a great place to live.

Families with children too young to remember the last time a 35-foot evergreen tree was placed at the top of the town hall steps took photos as the singers sang, heading from Trinity Repertory Company, down Washington Street to City Hall.

Some wore masks while humming familiar Christmas carols. Others have remained socially distant, apart.

People stand around downtown BankNewport waiting for an ice skating show.
People stand around downtown BankNewport waiting for an ice skating show.Erin Clark / Globe Staff
Two-time US Olympic medalist Nancy Kerrigan co-hosted the ice show in Providence.
Two-time US Olympic medalist Nancy Kerrigan co-hosted the ice show in Providence.Erin Clark / Globe Staff
People wrap themselves in blankets as they sit around downtown BankNewport.
People wrap themselves in blankets as they sit around downtown BankNewport.Erin Clark / Globe Staff

In 2020, tree lighting was a virtual celebration to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the time, Rhode Island was going through a second wave, and a 14-day economic “hiatus” that locked down much of the state was extended for several weeks.

“Last year, [spectators] I must have laughed painfully at my jokes virtually, ”said event MC Brendan Kirby, who is also co-host of WPRI’s Rhode Show.

But this year, optimism can be found almost everywhere, including downtown: Federal Hill opened two new restaurants last month, former Mayor Joseph Paolino’s luxurious Beatrice Hotel invited guests to spend the night in October and standing ovations after Broadway shows. perform again at the Providence Performing Arts Center.

A second tree was lit outside BankNewport City Center and the Brown University Marching Band took to the ice on skates, opening a show featuring two-time US Olympic medalist Nancy Kerrigan.

More than 250 people gathered around the rink, dressed in puffy jackets, plush earmuffs and fleece blankets as they watched children’s theater companies and national champions in sparkling costumes glide along the ice.

On the outskirts of the brightly lit ice rink, groups of diners outside restaurants along nearby Washington Street flocked, holding up leftovers. The valet team at the Hotel Providence helped car after car unload sports bags and suitcases.

Back in downtown BankNewport, a young girl, perched on her father’s shoulders, holding a plush elf with striped socks, leaned over and said, “It’s kind of like the good old days.

Santa Claus distributes gifts to children.
Santa Claus distributes gifts to children.Erin Clark / Globe Staff

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @alexagagosz.



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