It’s beginning to look a lot like not-Christmas this year in Gilbert with no Giving Machines, socially distanced Santas and one of the town’s most popular holiday events moved online – all thanks to COVID-19.
But there are still events on the town’s holiday calendar, though many will be different this year because of the pandemic, with reduced crowd sizes and other health regulations in place.
And various drives are already going on – or will soon – to help needy families at a time when the pandemic brought economic havoc to many households.
The pandemic since March has thrown many public events off-kilter, most notably the town’s centennial celebration and Gilbert Days.
Now, Santa returns to HD SOUTH, Home of the Gilbert Historical Museum, and San Tan Village for pictures with the kids but they will be a contact-free experiences.
Santa, his elves and anyone 2 and older will wear masks and hand sanitizer will be available.
To reserve a spot with Santa at San Tan Village for Dec. 4-24, shopsantanvillage.com/SantaPhotos. HD South also is requiring reservations for its Breakfast for Santa event 8:30-11:30 a.m. Dec. 5 at hdsouth.org/events.
What was to be Gilbert’s third year of hosting vending machines at Water Tower Plaza downtown that enable people to donate to nonprofits has been delayed until 2021, according to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Giving Machines are part of the church’s annual Light the World campaign, which asks people to take the 25 days leading up to Christmas and turn it into a season of helping others in need. The initiative is still being held and the church is encouraging the public to donate to charities.
Plans were in place to expand to more locations this holiday season but COVID-19 prompted church officials to postpone all Giving Machines until 2021.
Church spokeswoman Jennifer Wheeler said the Gilbert site attracted big lines in prior years, so “the cancellation is because of concern related to Covid-19 spreading in large groups.”
The Town of Gilbert is still holding its Riparian After Dark event from 5:30-8 p.m., Dec. 11-20 at 2757 E. Guadalupe Road. Tickets must be purchased online, beginning 8 a.m. Nov. 30, in order to walk through the holiday lights display.
Gilbert also is stringing up holiday lights downtown at the iconic water tower that will dance and sing to holiday songs.
From Nov. 30-Jan. 3 at 5 p.m., the tower will play through eight songs and restart every 30 minutes until 10 p.m.
A menorah will be lit in downtown Gilbert starting the night of Dec. 10 until Dec. 18 to celebrated Hanukah.
For children who want to partake of the town’s holiday-themed recreation programming, there are several to choose from, but advance registration is required, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Harrison.
There’s the Challenge Island Holiday Workshop for toy-making 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Dec. 5 for 5- 12-year-olds at McQueen Park Activity Center. The cost is $40.
Also, the McQueen Park center will host a Holiday Cookies and Crafts workshop 10 a.m.-noon, Dec. 12 kids 5-12 years old. The cost is $20 but the class is full, so a waiting list registration is open at gilbertaz.gov.
For adults over 18, the Winter Wonderland, 6-8 p.m. Dec. 13 at Freestone Park,1045 E. Juniper Road, includes an evening of music, crafts, cozy treats and a visit from a very special guest.
Each reservation is for one table and each table can accommodate up to six people. Cost is $20 and reservations can be made at gilbertaz.gov.
But the 12th annual Fulton Homes 12K’s of Christmas – which is considered one of the best holiday runs in the nation by professional runners – won’t be held at Freestone Park as it has been the past decade.
Instead the event will be held Dec. 12-14 virtually.
It includes a 12K run and 6K run/walk and a 1.2K Dog Dash.
Participants can complete their 12K or 6K anytime between Dec. 12 and Dec. 14 outside or on a treadmill and post their timed results to Raceroster.com by Dec. 14.
The 12K and 6K registration still includes goodies such as a Christmas medal, Santa beard buff, Christmas socks and a Custom Naughty or Nice finishers certificate.
All 1.2K Dog Dash participants will receive a Custom 12K’s of Christmas bandana to share with their fur babies, bib and Christmas sticker.
Deadline to register is Dec. 5. For those who want their SWAG delivered before Dec. 12, the deadline is Nov. 25.
For more information, including costs and registration, go to https://raceroster.com/events/2020/34746/12ks-of-christmas-virtual
There also are opportunities for those looking to help others in need during this trying holiday season.
Gilbert Police are holding a Holiday Gift Card Drive from 10 a.m.- 1 p.m., Nov. 21 at Jacksons Car Wash, 2870 S. Market St.
Anyone who donates a gift card valued at $25 or over will receive a free full-service car wash or a free express oil change in return. Participants will be entered in a raffle with the chance of winning a year of free car washes.
The department usually holds a toy drive but because of COVID restrictions, people are asked to donate gift card donations instead.
Gilbert Fire and Rescue is holding a clothes and toys drive for needy children in town from now until Dec. 14.
Unwrapped donations of new toys and clothing can be dropped off 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday to Thursday at the Fire Administration at 85 E. Civic Center Drive or at the Municipal Building, 50 E. Civic Center Drive.
Those who want to participate virtually can send items to Gilbert Fire Admin, 85 E. Civic Center Drive, Gilbert, Arizona, 85296.
People also can register to sponsor a portion or the entire wish list of a child by signing up to be a Holiday Hero. Register at glbrt.is/GFRDHolidayDrive.
And, keep an eye out for Fire Engine No. 2510, which will continue a 10-plus-year tradition where crews festively decorate the truck located at Fire Station 10 to bring the holiday spirit to the streets of Gilbert.
At the nonprofit AZCEND in Chandler, which also serves Gilbert, Operation Santa kicked off. People can adopt a struggling family or donate a new toy or clothing item.
Donations requested include new shoes, clothes of all sizes, jackets, socks, dolls, arts and crafts, cars or trucks, new books, board games and gift cards.
Items can be dropped off from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. through Dec. 12 at Heritage Center for AZCEND, 132 W. Bruce Ave., Chandler. For more information, go to gilbertaz.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/9189/19.