Ever since the legendary Harry Gaines use to sit in a chair and hand out candy canes where the Kenai Visitor & Cultural Center is now located, children have welcoming Christmas to Kenai has been a community tradition on the day after Thanksgiving. More than three decades ago Peggy Arness, who was the director of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce at the time created the first "Christmas Comes to Kenai" celebration and it has been a day to look forward to ever since. It wasn't long after that Anita Necessary started her tradition of passing out cookies to all the boys and girls who came to visit with Santa, "Long before we even had our kids Harry Gaines was always our Santa and he would sit in a chair over here and give out candy sticks to the kids who came to tell him their wish list for Santa and that was when I got involved baking and handing out cookies for the kids who visit Santa during Christmas Comes to Kenai. I've been doing it every year since and I won't let anyone else take it over as I love it too much and its become a part of our Christmas, I get to see people I don't ordinarily and I love these kids having just come back from being on Santa's knee they are just glowing and that makes it worth it all," Anita told the Dispatch in an interview.
According to Johna Beech, the present Kenai Chamber executive director this year was a picture perfect day for the event, "This year did not disappoint with Santa Clause arriving to the Kenai Visitor's Center via the Kenai Fire Department Friday morning. In the 3 hours Santa visited, he saw well over 200 kids and listened to their holiday wishes. Pepsi Cola sponsored the kids' giveaway bags which included mittens, kazoo, and bubbles, among other trinkets. Anita Necessary & Laurie Bookey were familiar faces handing out Cookies and Cocoa to the kids and their families. Michelle Seaman of Studio 3 Photography took free photos of the children atop Santa's knee," reported Beech.
A new event this year for Christmas Comes to Kenai was the "Turkey Trot" 10K and 5K fun run. With the mercury hovering around 0 James Tangaro, Tesoro plant manager, beat Santa to the finish line with a time of 43:44. In the women's 10K Kristy Berington was first over the frozen course in 48:16. In the 5K Darik Pickerel was the inaugural winner with a time of 24:27 and Jen Novobilski was women's winner at 31:58.
As the sun set and the temperatures continued to fall hundreds of families lined Frontage Street for the annual Electric Light Parade. "We were very happy with the turn out considering how cold it was," added Beech. Parade winners included Alaska Engineered Truss, CARTS, Kenai Peninsula Pop Warner and Chris & Brandon Sorrels.
After the parade Kenai Mayor Pat Porter lit the Chamber Christmas Tree as the Heinrichs started the community bonfire. "The bonfire is a tradition in the Heinrich family. Leroy Heinrich has been in charge of the bonfire for years. In fact, his grandson Chris started 'helping' when he was just 8yrs old. This year, Chris Heinrich was in charge of the bonfire," said Beech. The evening concluded with the fireworks show sponsored by Stanley Ford and the City of Kenai.