Even with pandemic, some still show to watch traditional Plaza lighting ceremony

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — So much has changed during 2020 due to COVID-19 and that includes a different kind of Plaza lighting celebration.

Thanksgiving afternoon and night, the Country Club Plaza is usually packed with folks celebrating the officials start of the holiday season here in Kansas City. Because of the pandemic, city officials asked people to stay home and watch the plaza lighting on-line or on TV.

The grand stage on which Kansas City A-list entertainers celebrated the Plaza lighting to a packed crowd is gone. In its place, the sound of a lone performer’s beautiful songs lingering in the atmosphere at the Country Club Plaza. The crowd, much smaller than years past.

Tim Hayes played his guitar and sang Christmas songs to passers-by. The only entertainment on this holiday.

“It’s nice to be known as that I guess for this year,” he said.

Hayes decided to come out on what turned out to be a beautiful day and spread joy to those milling about the Plaza. Some of those folks even got to the shopping area early to see the lights turn on, even if by accident.

“We didn’t know about the timing,” said Amit Kumar. “We thought it was at 5 o’clock but it turned out to be 7 o’clock, that’s why we are here early.”

Kumar and his wife hosted friends from St. Louis who have been to Kansas City several times, but this is their first Plaza lighting. COVID-19 kept the massive crowds from past years away, but it couldn’t damper their holiday spirit.

“Because we have good company,” said Kumar’s friend Suganha Sharma.

Valerie Philipp and Lisa Wallace enjoyed an afternoon Thanksgiving meal then took a stroll around the Plaza, taking in the sights and sounds of this special day. 

“It’s just a fun tradition,” Philipp said. “Since we can’t be with our huge family, this is our way of social distancing but yet still celebrating.”

The women say it has been a difficult year and it is sad for them not to see people flooding the plaza to watch the lights.

“I know they will do it virtually but it’s nice that I live close enough I can be down here and see it in person,” Wallace said.

The tradition started as a single strand of lights placed outside a store in 1925. The Plaza lights have grown to become famous all over the country and even the world.

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