Christmas came to Kenai before the snow did this year.
As Santa rolled into the parking lot of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center on Friday, the roads were free of ice and snow and the kids were excited to see him, as usual.
Jackson Marion is sure he is on Santa’s “nice list”.
“Well … I hope I’m not on the naughty list,” he said.
Jackson, 8, along with his brother Macalen, 6, were among scores of giddy children lined up outside center, hoping to meet Santa during the annual Christmas Comes to Kenai celebration.
The celebration, held throughout town to celebrate the commencement of the holiday season, also included a craft fair, parade and fireworks display.
Upon arriving, Santa was jolly as usual, as one by one he heard the children’s Christmas wishes; his elves served hot chocolate to fend off the low temperatures. Nearby, two reindeer attempted to nibble on presents.
Across town, people of all ages gathered at Kenai Central High School to check out the Kenai Fine Arts Guild craft fair.
With an eclectic range of goods for sale, everyone, including vendors, seemed to be enjoying the start of the holiday season.
“I enjoy crowds and the fun, because everyone is happy,” said Sue Phillips, who was selling handmade earrings at the Teasing Raven Designs booth.
Phillips, who has participated in the craft fair for six years and donates her proceeds to charity, was thankful to avoid department stores and the Black Friday chaos that sometimes ensues.
“I wouldn’t want to be out in the stores today, so this is a good place to be,” Phillips said. “I always get someone to sit with the booth while I get my Christmas list. I always hit up the pottery people.”
Nearby, Deanna O’Connor, from Smiling Otter Studio in Nikiski, was also pleased to be sitting at the annual fair.
“It’s a very good show. It’s very well run and we’re really happy with everything. The shoppers that come in are really nice and you meet a lot of interesting people. It’s fun to just be here,” said O’Connor, who was selling fur items and goat milk soap.
At 6 p.m., hundreds of spectators lined Frontage Road and cheered as several floats, the Kenai Central High School drum line and Santa made their way down the road to the Kenai Chamber parking lot.
“It’s good coming and seeing the town come together here to celebrate the holidays,” said Mackenzie McGee, who helped put together the Kenai Peninsula College float.
McGee hoped that the KPC float would not only enhance the already festive atmosphere, but also send a positive message about the college.
“I think it’s good for kids to see that the college is involved with the community.” McGee said. “Some kids don’t know that they can go to college, so I think it’s important to see that we have a presence here and that we care about them.”
As the parade concluded, those who braved the cold were rewarded with a bonfire where they could warm up and meet with friends.
Cassandra Rankin and her family stood near the bonfire, where they caught the end of the parade.
“We’ve been coming (to Christmas Comes to Kenai) for over 12 year,” Rankin said. “We like it all.”
To cap off the night, the City of Kenai, along with Stanley Ford, sponsored a huge fireworks display. The first explosion was met with a collective cheer from the jubilant spectators.
“It’s a good community event,” said Shauna Thornton, who helped organize the KPC float.
“Christmas Comes to Kenai is something that we all look forward to every year. The fireworks, the bonfire, the community events – it brings our community together and reminds us the good reasons for having Christmas,” Thornton said.