JEFFERSON — The 50th anniversary of Jefferson’s German-heritage festival could not have fallen at a worse time.
The Gemuetlichkeit Days organization was all set for a banner year, with special events and nostalgic highlights spread across the spring and summer to lead up to a big half-century celebration this September.
However, COVID-19 had other plans.
When the coronavirus pandemic closed schools and businesses around the world, that axed the organization’s May Ball, which for the past 49 years has served to kick off the Gemuetlichkeit season and introduce the new king and queen to the Jefferson community.
The May Ball was to have taken place this month. When the pandemic began forcing closings, wiping events big and small off the calendar, plans for the May celebration quietly were shelved in hopes that the crisis would be over by the scheduled three-day Gemuetlichkeit Days festival in mid-September.
However, in light of the continuing pandemic, the Gemuetlichkeit Days organization announced Wednesday that it would be postponing the 50th anniversary festival until 2021.
Gemuetlichkeit Days President Tony Haffelder said that the board of directors has been working on the big 50th anniversary celebration literally since the 49th annual festival wrapped up.
When COVID-19 appeared on the horizon, it was almost immediately apparent that May Ball was going to be an impossibility, but organizers held out some hope that the regular festival in September could go on as planned.
As time went on, however, the group began looking at all of the possibilities and how each would play out. Moving to online meetings through Zoom, planners ultimately decided that postponing the festival would be in the best interest of everyone.
Despite the easing of some restrictions this month, the coronavirus continues to spread, threatening people’s health and lives and negatively impacting local residents and businesses. While early vaccine trials show promise, medical experts caution that even in the best-case scenario, such a vaccine could not be approved and made available to the public until likely sometime next year. As such, medical professionals warn against large gatherings for the foreseeable future.
“This isn’t easy news to deliver, but after many weeks of discussion and carefully considering our options, we, the Gemuetlichkeit Days Board of Directors, have made the decision to postpone our 50th Gemuetlichkeit festival to next year — Sept 17,18, and 19, 2021,” Haffelder said.
He said that for many in the community, this probably does not come as a surprise.
The organizers are as disappointed as anyone at the postponement, Haffelder said, but the organization had to make people’s health, safety and comfort their top priority.
He said coordinators just did not think they could do justice to the tradition of Gemuetlichkeit Days while under the shadow of the pandemic, with large gatherings restricted and social distancing and facemask-wearing becoming the norm.
He said the Gemuetlichkeit Days board took its cue from Centers for Disease Control guidelines, noting that there is no clear end date to the current recommendations.
“As much as we’d like to ‘wait it out’ and hope for the best, we felt it was important to be proactive in our decisionmaking, especially considering the people who travel and take vacation time just to come to our festival, and for the safety and health of our own community,” Haffelder said.
The G-Days organization also wanted to ensure that the new king and queen — who, with the cancellation of the 2020 May Ball, have yet to be announced — are able to enjoy all of the usual special events, from the public unveiling and coronation to the summer’s parades and celebrations, just like other kings and queens that have gone before.
“And the identity of the king and queen is still a secret,” Haffelder said. “They will have to keep it quiet longer than any other royal couple has.”
In addition, the organization did not want to burden hard-hit local businesses with the expectation that they should donate toward this community event.
While it is with heavy hearts that the Gemuetlichkeit Days board decided to postpone the slate of “50th-year” events, up to and including the festival itself, this decision is a freeing one as well, Haffelder said.
“With this decision made, our group is now free to refocus 100 percent on our (rescheduled) 50th year of Gemuetlichkeit Days, with some exciting promotions to come leading up to next year’s event,” the fest president said.
“This will definitely be one for the history books,” he added.
He said that while this year’s postponement is a disappointment in the immediate sense, when viewed from the span of Gemuetlichkeit Days’ five-decades of existence, it’s just “a little blip.”
“We’ll get through this, like we’ve gotten through other things before,” Haffelder said, noting that the organization is going to use this extra time to better prepare for 2021 and a fantastic anniversary celebration.
As the organization concentrates on making next year as special as possible, Haffelder said, the board would like to thank all of the sponsors that have supported the festival through the years, with wishes for a safe and healthy 2020 and a celebratory 2021.