When the doors at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center opened at 11 a.m. on Friday, the line of families eagerly waiting to see Santa Claus wound almost to the end of the block. Amid barely-double-digit temperatures, reindeer grazed in the field adjacent to the center while spectators looked on.
They were there for the chamber’s annual “Christmas Comes to Kenai” event, which brought the community together in celebration of the holiday season.
Last year, the event was one of the only city events not to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and took place entirely outside. This year, the event moved back inside the visitor center, where Mr. and Mrs. Claus took photos with families, who enjoyed hot chocolate, cookies, candy canes and goody bags.
Kimberly Sparacio, chamber programs and facilities coordinator, said at around 1:15 p.m. more than 100 photos with Santa Claus had already been taken, with the line still wrapped around the chamber lobby. Hal and Susan Smalley served hot chocolate.
A roaring virtual fire loomed large over a packed chamber hall and elves staffing Santa’s “Toy Shop” handed out goody bags.
Brittany Brown, the chamber’s executive director, said the chamber didn’t offer photos with Santa Claus last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that she’s glad they could bring back the activity this year. Brown also said that the 2021 parade was the biggest for Christmas Comes to Kenai at 16 pre-registered floats and more interested.
“It’s our biggest so far,” Brown said Friday.
Well before the annual electric lights parade kicked off at 6 p.m., cars lined up and bundled spectators huddled on the sidewalk. The caravan headed down Frontage Road toward the visitor center, where a bonfire warmed a crowd, and featured inflatable Christmas characters, vehicles wrapped in lights and Santa Claus aboard a Kenai Fire Department fire engine.
A fireworks display sponsored by the City of Kenai, Fred Braun of Jack White Realty and Kenneth Dunbar lit up the evening sky at 7 p.m. and capped off the festivities.