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Watch now: Prairie Arts Center hosts its annual Festival of Trees
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Watch now: Prairie Arts Center hosts its annual Festival of Trees

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Being immortal, Santa Claus’ social distancing Saturday at North Platte’s Prairie Arts Center was naturally more for the sake of his young guests.

Granted, 14-year-old Coy Baker of North Platte and his 12-year-old brother, Kason, wouldn’t have been sitting on Santa’s lap anyway as they visited by appointment during the annual Festival of Trees.

“What would you like for Christmas?” Santa asked after checking his 21st-century phone app to determine whether the brothers had been naughty or nice.

“I don’t know,” both said.

“Better figure it out!” Santa replied. “You’re running out of time!”

Scheduling Santa’s time was just one of the COVID-19 adjustments Prairie Arts Center leaders made for the 13th annual version of their pre-Thanksgiving fundraiser.

Instead of a live-bidding climax to the event’s online auction, auctioneer David Greiner of Gateway Realty hosted a livestreamed conclusion with bids on this year’s 42 Christmas items displayed on a screen behind him.

“No chant today,” Greiner said regretfully, referring to live auctioneers’ trademark patter.

Executive Director Holly Carlini said online bidding, which opened Tuesday, was brisk all week right up to Saturday’s midafternoon wrapup.

“We’ve watched it steadily grow through the week, and we’ve been really pleased,” she said, thanking Gateway for agreeing to help stage the event this year.

The pandemic cost the Festival of Trees its lead-in event when the North Platte Community Playhouse Guild had to cancel its annual fundraising Carousel of Homes holiday tours.

The guild held its annual Christmas boutique, its other major fundraiser, Saturday at the Neville Center for the Performing Arts.

In another COVID-19 change, the arts center cut down its event’s number of auctioned, fully decorated Christmas trees to three and encouraged more centerpieces and smaller holiday-themed artistic creations.

This year’s artists “really created one-of-a-kind pieces, so that made the auction popular,” Carlini said.

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