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.