Evelyn Love, 7, had never watched Gloucester’s annual tree lighting by the side of the ocean.
That changed Saturday when she and her siblings had the honor of flipping on the 35-foot tree for the first time this season and seeing its colored lights blaze against the dark evening sky.
“I’m really thankful,” Evelyn said. “It’s exciting to do it this year, but I’m kind of sad that it is this year because of COVID.”
About 20 children usually line up to turn on the tree together in front of a few hundred people at Kent Circle, which sits along the city’s waterfront.
This year, only the Love family, a few event organizers, and Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken gathered to light the tree in a ceremony that was livestreamed on Facebook, with Evelyn, her 12-year-old sister, Annette, and their 9-year-old brother, Titus there to represent the children of Gloucester.
“[This lighting] means that there are important things in our lives that can’t be disrupted because we have a pandemic,” said State Senator Bruce Tarr. “We need to continue to have that spirit that brings us together.”
The state senator’s brother, Brent “Ringo” Tarr, organizes the event with his family each year. This year, he hoped the lighting would help spread some holiday cheer during an especially hard time.
“Hopefully, all the people in Gloucester will be able to enjoy it,” Ringo Tarr said ahead of the lighting. “We’ve had tremendous feedback about pulling off this feat of getting the tree from Shelburne.”
Ringo Tarr and several others usually pick the tree up from Harris Tree Farm in Shelburne, Nova Scotia and drive it home in a custom trailer. But because of pandemic travel restrictions, his brother had to work with the Canadian consulate this year to get the tree safely across the border.
“It was like a huge relay race…” Senator Bruce Tarr said. “It was such a challenge, and the province of Nova Scotia, town of Shelburne, and Canadian consulate all played a huge role in trying to make it happen.”
The tree, which is donated by the town of Shelburne each year, had to be trucked to Halifax before taking passage on a container ship to Portland, Maine, where Ringo Tarr picked it up.
Not only did it travel by sea on a ship that donated its time to make the journey, but the 45-foot white spruce that will light up Boston Common Thursday was also on board.
“We were able to, no matter what, have a tree here and keep that tradition alive,” Ringo said.
A virtual lighting in Provincetown also aired online Saturday evening. Viewers were able to see a prerecorded video of Santa Claus lighting up a lobster trap tree that has decorated Lopes Square every year since 2003.
Crystal Popko has helped put up the tree each year since her father started the tradition. While the first tree lighting was a small gathering of people Popko pulled off of the street, it has become a night where hundreds crowd in Lopes Square to celebrate.
“That isn’t the case this year,” Popko said. “I’m not even going to Provincetown tonight.”
COVID-19 regulations made putting up the tree a big challenge for Popko. At one point, she wasn’t even sure if it would go up at all.
“The town was very careful with their permitting around events, and gathering a crew this year was difficult,” Popko said. “There were a lot of road blocks, but it always works out.”
While crowds couldn’t gather to light the tree, families can still head to Provincetown to take photos in front of it or watch Popko’s video online.
“It’s short and sweet and it will make you feel good when you can’t go out and see it for yourself…” Popko said. “I hope they feel the warmth and the joy of the season kicking off.”
In Chatham, the town’s Christmas tree will light up at a virtual ceremony on Dec. 11.
Jenn Allard, of Mainsail Events, organizes the town’s tree lighting each year. She said there is usually a light parade for children, among other events that draw in crowds throughout the holiday season — events she has had to scale back because of the pandemic.
“We’re experiencing the same challenges that other communities are with COVID,” Allard said. “It’s a balance of how to keep tradition alive and keeping everyone safe, and safety is the number one priority.”