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McKeesport mayor cites safety concerns during ‘really tough year’
McKeesport’s 35th annual Festival of Trees is expected to continue as scheduled, but this year’s Christmas parade has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Tube City Almanac file photo from 2019)
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused yet another cancellation — this time, of McKeesport’s Christmas parade.
However, the 35th annual Festival of Trees is expected to be held, though with social distancing rules in place and probably without food service.
“You’ll probably agree with me that this year has been a really tough year for many reasons,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said. “It’s disheartening to not have the events — the concerts, the ribfest, the Easter egg hunt, International Village, I could go on and on. That’s made this year a lot worse because that’s where (McKeesport) gets to shine.”
Officially known as the “Salute to Santa” parade, the event, typically held on the third Saturday of November, has been a McKeesport staple for more than a half-century and has grown to become one of the largest Christmas parades in Western Pennsylvania, including multiple marching bands, cheerleading and drill squads and many public safety and veterans units.
Holding the parade under the current conditions — with COVID-19 cases again going up in Pennsylvania — is impossible, Cherepko said.
“It’s irresponsible on our part to bring people into close proximity in crowds,” he said. The only way that city officials can control the size of the event “is not having the event,” Cherepko said.
The Festival of Trees is usually held the first weekend of December in Jacob Woll Pavilion at Renziehausen Park, and features nearly 100 hand-decorated Christmas trees supplied by local groups, organizations and businesses. Many of the trees are decorated in special themes or using unusual ornaments.
The event also serves as a collection drive for area food pantries.
The festival is expected to continue, but without food service, which in recent years has been supplied by culinary arts students from McKeesport Area High School.
“I think people need something to look forward to,” Cherepko said. “It may help some people get into the Christmas spirit to walk around and see some nice decorations.”
Additional trees will be located once again at the nearby McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center, and the new parking lot constructed between the center and the Woll pavilion will be utilized, he said.
Residents who want to participate in Halloween trick-or-treating may do so from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 31, the designated hours for the activity, Cherepko said, but social distancing should be practiced.
Jason Togyer is editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published October 21, 2020.