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COVID-19 has taken another casualty: the annual Santa parade and holiday bonfire in downtown Riverhead. The popular holiday event has been canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Riverhead Lions Club and the Riverhead Business Improvement District both confirmed the cancellation Wednesday. The event was scheduled to take place Dec. 12.

The cancellation punctuates a year of canceled community events, parades and festivals. Ironically, the 2019 Santa parade and bonfire was the last big community event to be held before the pandemic struck New York in March, soon followed by a statewide lockdown.

Restrictions remain in place that limit the size of “non-essential” gatherings statewide. The restrictions are now tighter in downtown Riverhead, which is within a “yellow precautionary zone” micro-cluster announced this week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo due to a local surge in COVID-19 infections. Non-essential gatherings, both indoors and outdoors, are limited to 25 people in a yellow zone.

“We began discussions months ago, collectively brainstorming ways to reinvent the experience in a safer manner, but sadly decided to postpone both until next year,” Riverhead BID executive director Kristy Verity said in an email Wednesday.

“Regarding the cancellation of most downtown events this year, we understand the community’s disappointment and sometimes vast differences of opinion,” Verity wrote.

“It’s very difficult for us to make the decision of calling something off. We spend endless hours trying to find ways to bring light to Riverhead during this difficult time. Ultimately, the safety of our community and staying within COVID regulations must take precedent,” Verity said. “Respectfully, we continue to work on new ways to keep Riverhead alive, residents happy, and local business ardent.”

This year’s parade, would have been the 69th annual Santa parade sponsored by the Riverhead Lions Club and the 21st annual holiday bonfire. The parade on Main Street had traditionally taken place on the first Sunday in December and the bonfire on the Peconic Riverfront was held on a Saturday evening in December. In 2017 organizers of the two events decided to hold both events on the same day, to create a large, family-friendly holiday festival downtown.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.