The Kenai Fire Department delivers Santa Claus to Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Fire Department delivers Santa Claus to Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Getting into the holiday spirit

Christmas arrives in Kenai with fireworks, Santa and a lot of rain

Consistent, heavy rainfall wasn’t enough to stymie any of the festivities for Christmas Comes to Kenai on Friday. Santa greeted children, elves delivered gifts, and the Electric Lights Parade and fireworks carried on defiantly.

Under umbrellas and in jackets Friday morning was a line of dozens of families stretching from the door of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, eyes angled toward the Kenai Spur Highway hoping for a glimpse of the Kenai Fire Department truck that was set to ferry the big man in red to his first appearance of the day.

Upon arrival, Santa Claus stopped for fist-bumps with children before leading the crowd into the center — and a greatly expanded offering of characters and giveaways that debuted this year.

Chamber Executive Director Samantha Springer said decorating the space had happened in only two days, and that the team was “exhausted” by the effort of making everything happen.

“But seeing how excited everybody is and everyone’s reactions to the things that are different, I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding,” she said.

The chamber’s largest space was adorned with images of a Christmas village, a winding queue taking families around to meet the Coca-Cola Polar Bear — who Springer said was making their first ever appearance on the Kenai Peninsula — and ultimately arrive at their meet and greet with Santa Claus himself.

Before attendees entered the line, a space was reserved by the front door promising the opportunity to instead meet the “4reel Santa,” revealed to be The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Santa sat for photos with kids, asked them what they wanted for Christmas, and sealed away their wishlists in a small box next to his chair. After meeting the star of the show, kids were led around the space by elves from Forever Dance, who helped them select toys, cookies, gloves and sodas all available for free and donated by a variety of businesses and organizations including Sweeney’s, IGA, the Kenai Senior Center, the Kenai Lions Club, Walmart, Safeway and McDonald’s.

The updated and expanded offering, Springer said, was informed by a guiding principle of creating an experience to get children excited. She described the scale of the decorations and the cast of characters expanding in planning sessions with Chamber Programs and Facilities Coordinator Liam Floyd.

Getting support from businesses and organizations for all of the donations and other features like the appearance by the Forever Dance elves and the Coca-Cola bear has “never been hard,” Springer said. That’s because everyone wants to do things for the local community.

“When you tell them what it’s for and that this is an absolutely free event … people want to support that,” Springer said.

After nightfall, Santa Claus again boarded a Kenai firetruck and led the Electric Lights Parade — hundreds of people lining Frontage Road despite pouring rain. The annual appearance of the Kenai Central High School Drumline was canceled because of the conditions of the route, but a variety of businesses, health care professionals, religious groups and community clubs were able to put on a show.

At the route’s terminus, a bonfire was ready and waiting, Kenai Lion’s Club members passed out cookies, and fireworks lit up the sky to close the evening.

For more information, find the “Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center” on Facebook.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

The Coca-Cola Polar Bear greets visitors during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Coca-Cola Polar Bear greets visitors during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Coca-Cola Polar Bear greets visitors during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Coca-Cola Polar Bear greets visitors during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Santa Claus sits for a photo with Gemma Germann during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Santa Claus sits for a photo with Gemma Germann during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Lakota Heinrich carefully considers his Christmas wish while meeting Santa Claus during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Lakota Heinrich carefully considers his Christmas wish while meeting Santa Claus during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

One of the Forever Dance elves passes out bags of candy and gifts during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

One of the Forever Dance elves passes out bags of candy and gifts during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Santa Claus greets Hudson Reinhardt during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Santa Claus greets Hudson Reinhardt during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Grinch waves at ShaeLynn Main during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Grinch waves at ShaeLynn Main during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Santa Claus greets children during the Electric Lights Parade, part of Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities, along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Santa Claus greets children during the Electric Lights Parade, part of Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities, along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Santa Claus greets children during the Electric Lights Parade, part of Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities, along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Santa Claus greets children during the Electric Lights Parade, part of Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities, along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Santa Claus greets children during the Electric Lights Parade, part of Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities, along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Santa Claus greets children during the Electric Lights Parade, part of Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities, along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A Kenai Peninsula Driving Instruction truck filled with light-up inflatables drives with the Electric Lights Parade, part of Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities, along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A Kenai Peninsula Driving Instruction truck filled with light-up inflatables drives with the Electric Lights Parade, part of Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities, along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Representatives of Central Peninsula Hospital ride in a house pulled by a truck during the Electric Lights Parade, part of Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities, along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Representatives of Central Peninsula Hospital ride in a house pulled by a truck during the Electric Lights Parade, part of Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities, along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Lions Club members pass out hot chocolate and cookies during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Lions Club members pass out hot chocolate and cookies during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Hundreds pack around the bonfire during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Hundreds pack around the bonfire during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kids watch fireworks under rainfall during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kids watch fireworks under rainfall during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kids watch fireworks under rainfall during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kids watch fireworks under rainfall during Christmas Comes to Kenai festivities along Frontage Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

More in News

Rep. Justin Ruffridge speaks about
House considers, rejects multiple school funding amendments during Wednesday floor debate

Over several hours, lawmakers considered six different increases in the Base Student Allocation to public schools

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan addresses members of the Alaska Legislature in the House chambers on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dismissing critics, Sullivan touts LNG project

During his annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday, the U.S. senator said state leaders should be doing everything they can to make the project successful

From left, Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, east side setnetter Ken Coleman and Konrad Jackson present information about a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for east side setnet fishery permits during a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate committee hears setnet buyback bill

The East Side of Cook Inlet Set Net Fleet Reduction Act is sponsored by Nikiski Sen. Jesse Bjorkman

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of debating an omnibus education bill in the Alaska House Chambers on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Tie vote kills early House debate on education funding

Lawmakers went into an hourslong recess that ended with adjournment until Tuesday morning

Mock-up illustration of in-development Kahtnu Area Transit Bus (Image courtesy Kenaitze Indian Tribe)
Kenaitze purchase Kenai’s former Kendall Ford building for transportation hub

Hetl Qenq’a will also serve as a hub for the upcoming Kahtnu Area Transit, a fixed route public bus service

Peninsula Clarion government and education reporter Ashlyn O’Hara stands in the hallways of the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau on Monday. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Clarion reporter working in Juneau for legislative exchange

Reporter Ashlyn O’Hara will be covering statewide issues with a local lens

Voters fill out their ballots at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai, Alaska on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman leads local campaign finance pack, reports show

The reports, due Feb. 15 for candidates running for state office in 2024, offer a glimpse at the position from which candidates will start this election year

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion
Caitlin Babcock addresses students during Luke Herman’s government class at Soldotna High School on Feb. 8 in Soldotna.
Amid education funding shortfalls, local students advocate for support

‘This state will lose us and generations of students after’

Most Read