Solvang’s Julefest celebration proceeds with caution
Every year, Solvang decorates Mission Drive and holds shows, wine tastings and pictures with Santa Claus.
This year will look different to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
IDK Events, an event management company from San Francisco, started directing Julefest a few months before last year’s festival. This year, the business has been tasked to create a Christmas experience while keeping everyone safe during the festival, which begins Saturday with modifications.
“We’ve had to drastically change some of the things that we did last year. But I think that we’re still able to produce a really appropriate event for both the time and the town,” said Scott Shuemake, president and founding partner of IDK Events.
Current COVID-19 protocols don’t allow gathering, so his team is focusing on highlighting Solvang’s businesses.
“We’re focusing on light and decor, and the town itself lends itself really well to that Christmas feeling of comfort,” he said.
Even without swaths of evergreen, Solvang feels like the holidays. It even inspired a Lifetime Christmas movie, “A Very Charming Christmas Town,” which started airing Nov. 8 on the cable channel.
“The Danes love Christmas,” said David Watts, owner of a year-round Christmas store called Jule Hus.
“There’s that happy glean in the eye of a Dane when they discuss the Christmas season,” said the Solvang store owner.
Mr. Watts said his mom noticed Solvang’s love for Christmas when they moved there in 1959. Every store in the city seemed to have a portion of its shop dedicated to Christmas.
Jule Hus is all Christmas, all the time. Mr. Watts has owned the store since the original owners retired 28 years ago.
He said he’ll miss Julefest’s nativity pageant the most this year. He used to play King Herod in the production and always loved teaching his kids about the religious aspects.
He wasn’t a fan of the flair IDK Events brought last year and said it was “not in character with the village.”
There was a drone show, where colorful LED lights on the drones made shapes and designs dancing in the night sky. It sold out, and commenters on Facebook have been asking if it’s returning this year.
“I don’t think there’s a safe way for the performers or for the spectators to do shows — especially with the resurgence in cases right now,” Mr. Shuemake said.
“I don’t think there’s a safe way to do that so we’re focusing on decor, lights, small food tours highlighting the name of our restaurants and really creating ‘hyggelig,’ the Danish word for a feeling of cozy and comfort,” he said.
Mr. Shuemake is giving each store a Christmas tree to decorate in its own unique ways. He hopes these 100 trees perched outside the shops will encourage more business.
There will be a scavenger hunt around town where participants scan QR codes and have a chance at a prize.
“What we’re encouraging folks to do is explore the town in a socially distant way,” Mr. Shuemake said. “We’re creating experiences that subtly discourage gathering without saying we’re discouraging gathering.”
He has been contacted by people complaining about this year’s approach. Some think any sort of festival is irresponsible, and others want the performances from last year.
“It’s just been a tough eight months both for the pandemic and certainly mental health and economic stability … We’re doing what we can to bring folks who are willing to travel, willing to follow all the rules and do so in a safe way,” Mr. Shuemake said.
He hopes Julefest will help transport guests away from the chaos.
“I think everyone’s looking forward to it with the year we’ve had,” Mr. Watts said. “I think the warmth and the deep meaning of Christmas is something that can brighten even a viral year.”
For more information, go to solvangjulefest.org.