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COVID-19 Cancels San Antonio's River Parade, But The Lights Still Shine Bright

Jack Morgan
Texas Public Radio

The coronavirus pandemic has changed many traditions in San Antonio — a couple of note happen downtown. First off, the San Antonio River Walk Association’s Maggie Thompson said that one of the city’s most popular events…has gone missing.

“It has gone missing, and we’re very hopeful for next year,” she said.

She’s talking about the annual Ford Holiday River Parade, which takes place in the horseshoe bend area downtown. Its cancellation was announced back in October.

“It’s always celebrated the day after Thanksgiving. So, it will be truly missed this year,” Thompson said.

Jack Morgan
The Krayolas play on river barge in 2010

With the COVID-19 pandemic and the packed crowds the River Parade attracts, the parade was canceled. That cancellation means other traditions have been altered. Normally the River Parade signals the turning on of the River Walk lights.

“We always coordinate it with turning on the lights on the River Walk, but the city has gone ahead and turned on all the River Walk lights early this year,” she said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg switched on the lights during the live Nov. 12 COVID-19 press conference. Thompson said all the areas that are normally lit after Thanksgiving are already lit.

“All of the areas to the Pearl, down to the Museum Reach, the horseshoe is on, down at the River Center is on, so the entire River Walk is lit up now,” she said.

If you’re wondering whether you can take a barge ride to view the lights, you can. And yes, barge operators have put in additional safety precautions.

“They have to follow the same protocol. People have to wear masks. I think it’s 50, maybe even less than 50%, occupancy of normal,” she said.

San Antonio River Authority
The River Walk in 2008

Another thing San Antonians associate with winter on the River Walk: the draining of the river. This year, Thompson explained, it’s not happening.

“They cleaned a big portion of it last year so it won’t be needing to be drained this year,” she said. “We’ll also have luminarias. Those are the sacks with sand and candles that line the River Walk, and they’ll be put out the first three weekends in December.”

And here’s some good news: If you hate facing the Thanksgiving holiday without a river parade, 40 years of them are available to watch on YouTube.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii