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Christmas tree lighting: Hoda Kotb, Savannah Guthrie say traditions are needed 'more than ever'

Morgan Hines
USA TODAY
Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb at the 2020 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The holidays, like everything else in 2020, aren't what we'd normally expect,  thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. But NBC's "Today" show co-anchors Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie are not letting that dampen their spirit.

Last week, Kotb and Guthrie hosted the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade without spectators, and Wednesday night, NBC's annual “Christmas in Rockefeller Center," featuring the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting, which took priority over a rescheduled NFL game. It airs live (8 EST/delayed PST). Immediately afterward, they will host the "Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes – At Home Holiday Special" (10 EST/PST).

USA TODAY chatted with Kotb and Guthrie about the holiday season and how the pandemic has altered their professional and personal plans. (This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

Will the magical feeling of being at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting translate through a screen without a live audience?

Hoda Kotb: Very few people get to know what it feels like to look at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree up close. I think watching it through the screen is magical. 

Savannah Guthrie: If you're home, you put it on, the music is great, you can be decorating your tree, you're wrapping presents. Honestly, we might notice because we're used to seeing the crowds, but for folks at home, you're not going to notice that much difference.

There were a lot of jokes about the tree when it arrived. Do you think it will be at its full majesty when it's lit?

Kotb: She looked shabby when she first came, I've got to admit. In the beginning she looked like what 2020 was. [But] I just looked out the window today at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. She looked pretty, she looked full. Her hair was voluminous. She looked good — looked like she had a little Pantene shine going. I think people are going to be really impressed.

Can holiday spirit and the tree lighting resonate more in a year like this?

Kotb: I think so; people are feeling separate. They're feeling apart from the people they love the most. When we turn the lights on here [at the tree], New York lights up and we hope it lights up a lot of people that they feel that warm glow from this tree. We hope to give folks at home a feeling of normalcy. We're still here. The tree is still here.

Guthrie: We're going to all be working harder to make those family connections, and when you work hard at something you appreciate it more. I hope everybody will still have a beautiful meaningful Christmas. And I hope a big part of that, for all of us that are able, is to reach out and give to others. 

How did the Thanksgiving parade go, without an audience and in the rain?

Kotb: It was one of our favorites yet. and I don't know why it was maybe because I think we maybe all needed it more than ever this year. We were desperate for something that reminded us of the way it used to be, and this parade provided it. It wasn't like all the others but man, it was awesome.

Guthrie: There was just this palpable feeling that people wanted it and needed it and were so grateful for it.

Was the energy different without the crowd?

Kotb: Massive crowds are amazing and you feel the juice, but I felt something in this year that was different and unique and special. It wasn't a loud roar of the crowd but you felt the heartbeat of a city.

Guthrie: The only big difference I noticed was after there was a live performance, you didn't get the applause and so we missed that. We love to wave to people in the stands, but honestly there was a lot of energy.

How are you feeling at 'Today'? Are you used to this kind of new normal?

Kotb: When we first sat six feet apart Savannah and I... we were like 'where the hell are you?' But now, when we look at old videos of the show, I am like, 'Were you sitting on my lap?'

Guthrie: We're used to it now, and I think viewers are used to seeing it. I'm looking forward to that day [when we can stop distancing].

How are the holidays looking for your families this year?

Kotb: Every year, my mom and my sister come for Christmas... [but] it's not looking great. I think we are going to say, "2020, it's been nice knowing you" ... and plan for our next holiday season. But it'll be me and Joel (Schiffman) and the girls. We're getting our Christmas tree this weekend.

Guthrie: It's going to be hard, because we're not going to be with family the way we normally would be. It's been a long time since we've seen my mom. She lives in Arizona and we miss her so much. I think I had my heart set on us being together for Christmas but she's in that risk group that we really can't take a chance, so it'll be harder.

I just sent my mom some ornaments for her tree that have my kids' pictures on them. And we just decorated our tree yesterday. I put on the Christmas music, I let the kids have hot chocolate, we broke a couple ornaments — we're trying to make the most of it.

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