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Events with large crowds canceled as organizers reimagine 2020 Old Spanish Days Fiesta

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara's most iconic summer celebration will look significantly different this year as organizers grapple with a new way of life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Old Spanish Days board of directors say they are reimagining the 2020 Fiesta, out of concern for public health and the well-being of visitors, organizers and performers.

The large events for which Old Spanish Days Fiesta is known, will be canceled to prevent the gathering of crowds where it can be next to impossible to practice safe physical distancing.

“With so much still unknown, it’s too big of a risk to hold a large-scale event like Fiesta that will attract thousands of people,” said El Presidente Erik Davis in a press release issued Thursday. “During these unprecedented times we believe it's the right thing to do so that people can adjust their plans and we can move forward and do what we can to make the best of the situation.”

The four-day event in August will now take place primarily online and on television. Some of the celebrations will feature interactive challenges for people to complete at home or even in their cars.

“This is not how any of us expected this year to go,” Davis said. “But we are all having to adjust and find moments that bring us joy. So while we won’t be gathering like we normally would, the Fiesta Board has adjusted our planning to focus on safe and adaptive ways that will still bring forward the Fiesta spirit and will honor many of our rich traditions.”

Old Spanish Day Fiesta 2020 Commemorative Poster

La Primavera

Among the major changes, the annual unveiling of the Commemorative Fiesta poster and pin took place on the 5 p.m. news on NewsChannel 3 instead of in front of a crowd as part of the La Primavera celebration, which serves as a kickoff of sorts to the festivities.

La Fiesta Pequeña

La Fiesta Pequeña, often thought of as the crown jewel of the Fiesta ceremonies, will also undergo a change this year. The ceremony, which is normally held on the steps of the Santa Barbara Mission with crowds gathered on the mission grounds for as far as the eye can see, will now be a prime-time televised event airing on August 5. The show will replay highlights from past Fiesta Pequeña events. Organizers say the show will feature live commentary from show hosts.

El Desfile Historico

The Historical Parade will be reimagined, with a goal of entertaining fans of the parade while honoring and paying tribute to the health care workers on the front lines. A more detailed plan is in the works, organizers said.

Other Events

The Old Spanish Days Board of Directors is also focusing on bringing an interactive summer concert series. “Fiesta Music & Dance Fridays” will feature local bands and will highlight restaurants and nonprofits typically seen at the Mercados. Grand performances will be held on Friday, August 7 and Saturday, August 8. The concerts will be streamed on Facebook and will be shown on TVSB.

Old Spanish Days will also feature a series of virtual interviews, highlights of past Fiestas and social media posts celebrating the history of the summer festival.

Organizers are working with the Downtown Organization to have Fiesta flags flown on State Street for an extended period of time.

Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta

Plans for the Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta are being developed right now. More information on this and other interactive events will be announced once concrete plans are made.

“Fiesta will look different this year,” Davis said. “But we will do our very best to honor our history, maintain our traditions and celebrate our Santa Barbara story together. Viva la Fiesta.”

Old Spanish Days Fiesta is slated to take place Aug. 5-9.

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Travis Schlepp

Travis Schlepp is the Digital Content Director for KEYT | KCOY | KKFX.

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