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Castro Christmas tree will go up — but no lighting ceremony

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Carolers, joined by the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, heralded the lighting of the annual Castro holiday tree in 2012. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Carolers, joined by the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, heralded the lighting of the annual Castro holiday tree in 2012. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

The Castro Christmas tree will go up this year but there won't be the usual lighting ceremony due to the pandemic.

Masood Samereie, president of the Castro Merchants business group, confirmed the news in a November 16 email, several days after the Bay Area Reporter noted in an online article that while a ceremony was unlikely, there was no definitive word on whether the tree would be put up.

The artificial tree is normally assembled Thanksgiving week outside in the courtyard fronting the Bank of America building at the intersection of Castro and 18th streets.

"Yes, the tree is going up this year. And there will be no lighting ceremony due to COVID-19," Samereie wrote.

He did not respond to a question of when the tree would be installed.

In past years, the tree kicked off the all-important holiday shopping season in the gayborhood. It is usually lit the Monday evening after Thanksgiving accompanied by performances from both the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus and the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, the city's official band. A Santa assisted by his sexy elves always makes an appearance.

But this year, due to the health crisis that has severely impacted businesses in the Castro, large gatherings over the holidays are being strongly discouraged by local health officials, who on November 16 announced another rollback in the city's reopening plans due to a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. San Francisco was moved into the red tier of the state's reopening chart Tuesday, meaning nonessential offices are closed and gym capacity has been reduced. Indoor dining was closed last week.

"The COVID pandemic has certainly changed the dynamic regarding any gatherings or events in the Castro, including the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony," Samereie stated in an earlier email. "It has also given us cause to evaluate all programs to assure the money spent has the greatest impact while also being conscious of how each activity advances our goal of making the Castro the most vibrant, safe, and prosperous district in the city for business owners and residents alike.

During the business association's monthly meeting November 5, Cliff's Variety owner and former Castro Merchants president Terry Asten Bennett argued that "the Christmas tree should go up" even if done so without any fanfare this year.

Rabbi Mychal Copeland of the synagogue said November 10 that a menorah was unlikely to be unveiled this year at Jane Warner Plaza due to the pandemic. For several years now in December a menorah lighting ceremony has been held to celebrate Hanukkah in the public parklet on 17th Street at the corner of Castro and Market streets.

"I imagine not," she wrote in an email. "Sha'ar Zahav has had no in-person programs or services since COVID, and a gathering like that would not fit into our current protocols. Instead, we are doing Hanukkah lighting every night of the eight-night holiday online, with singing, learning, yoga ... all led by clergy and lay leaders."

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