Kat Sorensen / Peninsula Clarion file                                Sienne Lautarette (left) and Emma Glassmaker welcomed Christmas to Kenai at the Christmas Comes to Kenai 2017 celebration at the Kenai Visitor Center.

Kat Sorensen / Peninsula Clarion file Sienne Lautarette (left) and Emma Glassmaker welcomed Christmas to Kenai at the Christmas Comes to Kenai 2017 celebration at the Kenai Visitor Center.

Christmas makes an early appearance in Kenai

This Friday marks the annual “Christmas Comes to Kenai” celebration

Before people even have time to finish Thanksgiving leftovers, Christmas will arrive in Kenai.

This Friday marks the annual “Christmas Comes to Kenai” celebration, hosted every year by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce. Chamber President Johna Beech didn’t mince words while describing the event on Wednesday.

“It’s awesome!” Beech said.

The event will start when Santa Claus makes his way over to the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center at 11 a.m. — riding a fire truck from the Kenai Fire Department with his loyal elves. Families can enjoy hot cocoa, cookies and candy canes while the kids meet Santa and walk away with grab bags full of toys. Beech said that photographer Colette Gilmour will be there taking photos of the kids with Santa, which can be emailed to parents or picked up later at the visitor’s center for free.

“iPhones work too, of course,” Beech said.

The grab bags will be provided by Northern Insurance Services and include gloves donated by Sweeney’s Clothing and toothbrushes donated by Denali Family Dentistry.

Christmas Comes to Kenai has taken place for around 40 years now, and Beech said the founder of the event and first Kenai Chamber director, Peggy Arness, still shows up every year to give away cookies before Santa arrives. Before the Visitor Center was built in 1991, the event would be hosted in the old Chamber Cabin and took place mostly outside.

“I have to tip my hat to all the people who have come before us and made the event possible,” Beech said. “And now we get to celebrate in a warm, insulated building. We’ve come a long way.”

Santa will be at the visitor’s center until about 1 p.m. A few hours later, starting at 6 p.m., the Electric Lights Parade will start in front of the Kenai Senior Center and make its way down Frontage Road to the Kenai Chamber Cabin parking lot. Beech said that last year was their biggest parade yet with 10 floats, but she’s hoping to beat that record this year.

Eight floats have registered so far, and Beech said that people can register to be in the parade until about 30 minutes before it starts. Anyone interested in being in the parade should line up at the Senior Center between 5 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Beech said. A bonfire will be lit outside the Visitor Center and hot chocolate will be available to keep parade-watchers warm.

Motorists should be aware that Frontage Road will be closed and access to Old Town Kenai will be blocked off from 5:55 to 6:30 p.m. for the parade.

To end the night, a Grand Finale Fireworks display will be put on by the City of Kenai and Weaver Brothers/Doyle Fuel Service. The fireworks will be launched from the Kenai softball fields but can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. Beech said not to park near the softball fields for safety purposes, and Kenai Police Officers will be making sure no one parks too close to the fireworks.

“I just want to give a huge shoutout to the volunteers and community for making this possible,” Beech said. “Because of all our sponsors and donations we’re able to make this entire night free for everyone.”

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