’Twas the day before last when all through Kenai
People were clamoring to meet one jolly guy.
His suit was red and his beard was white,
and he’ll be busy from now until Christmas Eve night.
Blustery winds and cold temperatures didn’t stop the crowds from greeting Santa Claus at the Kenai Visitor Center on Friday morning. Santa, a close friend of Kenai City Council Member Tim Navarre, rode in, as he has for decades, on a City of Kenai fire truck and the annual Christmas Comes to Kenai, sponsored by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce, began.
“This is our first year visiting Santa,” said Ruby Hatten of Soldotna, who braved the weather with her family to get their photo taken with Santa.
As her family approached the door she asked them, “are you excited to meet Santa?” and received a shriek of excitement in return from her daughter, Elliot. Behind her in line, Beth Swaby was standing guard while her family warmed up in the car.
“My kids love seeing Santa,” Swaby said. “We’ve been coming to this for five years, taking pictures with Santa at the visitor’s center. They love seeing Santa, they like the elves.”
During the meet and greet with Santa, children get the chance to talk with the jolly man himself, take a photo and leave with a gift bag full of small toys, candy canes, hot chocolate and cookies.
“My oldest was really excited because they got a pair of knit mittens last year and she thought that was really cool to get in the little gift bags,” Swaby said.
Inside the visitor’s center, Santa and his elves worked throughout the morning, taking a photo with each of the children who showed up and hearing their Christmas wishes. The line, which filled the visitor’s center, wrapped along the walls and out the front door, moved quickly.
“I want a toy horse that’s pretty and a Barbie,” said five-and-a-half-year-old Isabella Grace Shannon while she waited. “I haven’t met Santa before, either, so that’s fun.”
Isabella’s mother, Crystal Shannon, said that a small level of craziness led them into the long, winding line to meet Santa Claus, but it was worth it.
“We wanted to get family pictures with Santa today, so we’re here,” Crystal said. “And she’ll talk to him. She loves horses and will start taking riding lessons soon.”
Some of Santa’s elves had wishes of their own, too, while they volunteered their time to help the event run smoothly.
“I love volunteering and I love seeing people come together on the holidays,” said Joyce Trenton, who was volunteering as an elf for the first time this year. “I’d like to ask Santa if he could give others what they hope for and what they really want.”
After a few hours, all the children’s wishes had been heard and Santa got a well deserved break. The holiday cheer spread through town and to the Kenai Central High School, where shoppers could get a jump start on their holiday shopping at arts and crafts fair. The Kenai Fine Arts Guild sponsored bazaar brought together makers, bakers, crafters and more to give the community an opportunity to find the perfect Alaska made gift.
Once the sun set, the the red suit and big white beard could be seen again as Santa Claus was manning a float in the Electric Light Parade. Bright neon lights, a tribe of decorate corgis and the jubilantly waving Santa Claus travelled down Frontage Road to the Kenai Chamber Cabin Parking Lot.
At the end of the parade, the flow of hot chocolate and cookies continued. Although a pile of pallets was waiting and ready to transform into a bonfire, a Christmas miracle would’ve been needed to light it with the high winds, and all that Christmas magic was saved for the fireworks show, which went off without a hitch despite the wind.
Instead of warming by an open fire, people took their hot chocolate to go and parked their cars facing the Kenai Airport to for a cozier view of the fireworks, which are sponsored by the city of Kenai, the Weaver Brothers and Doyle’s Fuel Service.
The fireworks burst, sparkled and whistled
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
You could tell from the crowd, as they packed up for the night,
They knew they started the holiday season right.