A beloved annual Alexandria tradition, Christmas in the Fort, will not be held this year because of the pandemic, the Runestone Museum has announced.

However, the downtown lighting ceremony will take place in the presence of two special visitors from the North Pole. Children won't be able to sit on Santa's lap this year, but they can drop their letters to him in a mailbox at the museum created just for that purpose.

The public is invited to line up along Broadway between Third Street and Eighth Street on Friday, Nov. 27, to watch the 5 p.m. lighting, said Amanda Seim, executive director of the museum.

“This is an event that’s been going on for 20 years and it was a really hard decision for our board of directors not to host it this year,” she said. "It's about doing what's best for the community."

One traditional activity, the Parade of Trees, will go virtual, she said. Those who decorate their homes at work or business can submit pictures of the trees, starting any time, to museum@legacyofthelakes.org. The public will still be able to vote for their favorite beginning Dec. 4 at www.legacyofthelakes.org/parade-of-trees.

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Christmas in the Fort usually draws about 1,200 to 1,400 visitors each year, Seim said. Volunteers throughout the community come together to make it happen. High school carolers in period dress sing old Christmas favorites, businesses donate coffee, cookies and cider, and children get to present their wishes to Santa and Mrs. Claus and see animals in a petting zoo. Visitors can tour the museum's 19th century buildings.

Steve Deitz, the high school choir director, said carolers have already begun Christmas rehearsals. Christmas in the Fort is just one of the places they perform in the Alexandria area, and they might get a chance to perform this year in other venues, depending on how the area's coronavirus numbers are doing, he said. And they are looking at recording a video of the carolers in full costume that would be available to the public.

“We’re sad that the tradition is set aside for the year," he said. Still, he added, "I think it’s important that we recognize the global pandemic and don’t bring people together to spread it.”