OLDSMAR — Determined not to let the coronavirus pandemic crush the holiday spirit, Oldsmar officials kicked off the 2020 holiday season with a virtual Christmas tree lighting ceremony Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Stationed at a podium placed just outside City Hall with the towering, unlit tree serving as a backdrop, Mayor Eric Seidel, along with Vice-Mayor Katie Gannon and council members Linda Norris and Dan Saracki, addressed the livestream audience by stating “we’re glad you have chosen to join us online as we continue with this annual tradition in a safer, socially distanced setting.”

After introducing the council members and officials in attendance, including City Manager Al Braithwaite, Assistant City Manager Felicia Donnelly, City Clerk Ann Nixon and recently elected state Rep. Traci Koster, Seidel turned the podium over to Katie Ducharme, a Dunedin resident renowned for her rendition of the national anthem, who sang several holiday classics throughout the 20-minute event.

Following Ducharme’s first song, Gannon noted the city is hosting several holiday events this year, all with social distancing and other COVID protocols in mind.

“Although the holidays are a bit different this year, there are still many festive things to do here in Oldsmar to maintain the spirit of the season,” Gannon said, citing the annual Christmas Wonderland held Dec. 4 at the Oldsmar Sports Complex that was turned into a drive-thru event and the third annual lighted golf cart parade slated for Saturday, Dec. 12, starting at 6 p.m. at Bicentennial Park.

Gannon said the annual Breakfast with Santa event is also scheduled for the Dec. 12 from 9 to 10:45 a.m. at R.E. Olds Park (tickets must be purchased in advance at State Street Center or the Cypress Forest Rec Center), and she encouraged attendees to bring new, unwrapped toys for kids aged 14 and younger to help Oldsmar’s annual Toys for Tots drive.

“And finally, kids, don’t forget to drop off your letters to Santa in his big mailbox right here next to City Hall!” the vice mayor concluded. “We’re collecting those for him now through Friday, Dec. 18, and be sure to include your return address so he can write you back!”

Seidel then introduced Oldsmar’s 2020 Citizen of the Year, Sandie Grimes, a 20-year resident who is “heavily involved in the community,” including a stint as an interim council member, and the pair walked down the steps to throw the switch on the massive tree.

After the ceremony, the mayor spoke about what it was like to host the tree lighting and other holiday events during a pandemic.

“I’m very proud of the city staff and the council for the job they did in presenting the tree lighting in a virtual environment. It was a first,” Seidel said via email. “Like everyone else, we are tired of events being canceled due to COVID-19. Our city team is committed to finding ways to keep events going for our community. The drive-through events at City Hall and the Oldsmar Sports Complex are great examples of being creative to keep the community spirit up. The feedback on these events have been outstanding and we are happy to be able to hold events again while keeping everyone safe.”