(This article has been updated to correct details about the sponsorship of this event).
Santa Claus is coming to town this weekend in Soldotna.
The annual “Christmas in the Park” tradition is returning for another year, and with an improved twist.
The event begins Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Soldotna Creek Park, and according to events and programs director Andrew Heuiser, the official lighting of the Christmas tree near the end of the evening will see a new, live spruce come to life.
Put on by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, the former metallic structure that served as the official community Christmas tree was used for years and sponsored by Conoco Phillips, but Heuiser said after Conoco gifted the use of the artificial tree over to the chamber, the laborious task of moving the structure into the downtown Soldotna park from Conoco’s plant in north Kenai forced the city to change things up.
“It’s a huge metal tree and it takes a lot to move it,” Heuiser said. “It needs a special permit, it needs a special vehicle to escort it down. It was pretty hard and dangerous to move it. It was kind of the perfect time to bring in (the new tree).”
Conoco Phillips will continue to be a diamond-level sponsor of the ceremony as part of the chamber’s community partner’s program.
Taking the place of the longtime artificial tree is a fresh, live spruce that Heuiser said should liven up the atmosphere. The new tree, according to assistant parks and recreation director Joel Todd, is a 20-foot tall spruce tree that was hauled in from the land around the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, where it had been growing.
All that’s left to do is for jolly old Saint Nicholas to flip the switch and turn on the lights, which were provided by Alaskan Seamless Gutters. Heuiser said families will be able to have their photo taken with Santa afterward.
The evening will begin with Christmas caroling by both the Kenai Central High School choir and the Soldotna High swing choir. Later, Santa Claus will make his entrance riding a fire truck provided by Central Emergency Services.
Hot cocoa, provided by Kaladi Bros, and cookies provided by Safeway will be supplied throughout the evening.
Heuiser said with years of experience of staging Christmas in the Park, the event is expected to be the top of the line in entertainment. Depending on weather and other local entertainment, Heuiser said he has seen between 100 and 600 people in attendance in past years.
“It’ll be a pretty short evening but a really fun evening,” Heuiser said.