NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk’s Annual Grand Illumination Celebration kicked off Saturday night.

The tradition was a bit different this year since the coronavirus pandemic canceled the parade — but, there’s still a lot to look forward to.

There are a lot of smaller events planned in downtown Norfolk over the next several weeks. Organizers hope it will lift the community’s spirits as we close out a stressful year.

“We still want to mark this day as the kickoff to the holiday season, but we want to do it safely,” said Jessica Kliner, marketing director for downtown Norfolk.

A global pandemic isn’t stopping downtown Norfolk from spreading Christmas cheer during the annual celebration.

The night kicked off the festivities with lights, live music, the return of hot cocoa wars, and of course, Santa.

“It still feels good. There’s a lot of lights; we just saw Santa from a distance. It’s nice,” said Christina Wassenaar.

More events will be held throughout the season. Reservations and designated time passes are required for certain events like the outdoor ice rink at MacArthur Center and visiting with Santa.

We’re told routine cleaning is also in place to keep guests safe.

“We worked closely with the city and the health department to make sure that everything’s just how it should be,” Kliner said. “We have a whole team of ambassadors that are making sure that it’s clean and safe down here the whole season.”

Organizers with downtown Norfolk said they had to think outside the box this year. Participating businesses have also stepped up to the challenge with a holiday movie-themed food and drink week.

“You can have everything from an Ovaltine martini from A Christmas Story theme to a deflated turkey sandwich. Everybody has gotten so creative, so we’re excited about that,” she said.

It’s a bit different but visitors won’t be disappointed.

“We still have to have a reason to make things merry and bright for the community downtown,” Kliner said.

For more information about upcoming events, click here.