Event kicks off holiday

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Christmas Comes to Kenai, which begins at 11:30 a.m. Friday, promises new features as well as the traditional events to delight spectators and create another year of holiday memories.

This is the 24th annual Christmas Comes to Kenai event, put on by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce with the help and support of various area businesses.

The festivities begin at 11:30 a.m. at the chamber of commerce cabin, near the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, and wrap up after the fireworks display at 7 p.m.

All the traditional events, including the electric light parade, a visit from Santa Claus and the fireworks, are part of the program for spectators to enjoy.

"It's really to promote family traditions, with help from local businesses," said Aud Walaszek, executive director of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce. "So when kids grow up they have these fond memories."

Several changes and new elements have been added to the program as well this year. The ceremonial lighting of the Village of Lights, with Kenai Mayor John Williams, will take place Friday at 5 p.m. in the Leif Hansen Memorial Park. In past years, the lighting has taken place in early November and was not part of the Christmas Comes to Kenai event.

Complimentary horse-drawn carriage rides in an oak surrey through Old Town Kenai will be available at the chamber cabin starting at 11:30 a.m. Children or families can enjoy this event in conjunction with visiting Santa.

As always, Santa will arrive via fire truck at the chamber cabin and visit with children starting at 11:30 a.m. Children will receive hot chocolate and cookies as they have in past years. This year, the first 100 children in line will also receive free movie passes to see "Monsters Inc." and free reindeer antler headbands. Each child will also receive a complimentary photo with Santa.

Merchandise will be sold at 5:30 p.m., as people start lining up for the parade, including Santa hats, reindeer antler headbands, flashlights and glow-in-the-dark necklaces and toys.

A Celebration Choir from Peninsula Grace Brethren Church will lead spectators in Christmas carols at the lighting of the Christmas tree and bonfire.

The grand finale fireworks display at 7 p.m. has undergone a change as well this year.

For the past 15 years, the labor for the display was provided by the McComsey family of Kenai.

"They deserve a lot of thanks," Walaszek said. "I bring my kids to the fireworks and didn't know that a family donated their labor. It takes all day to set that up, that's very generous and community-oriented."

The McComsey family was not able to provide that service this year as the person with the pyrotechnics permit has relocated.

"That put me in a panic because I knew I'd have to get someone from Anchorage to come down and it would cost more," Walaszek said.

Alaska Pyrotechnics out of Anchorage has been recruited to put on the show, which should be even more spectacular, since ithe company has the equipment to run the show electronically, rather than loading the fireworks by hand.

The Christmas Comes to Kenai tradition began 24 years ago as a way for the chamber to give back to the community, said Fred Braun, a longtime Kenai Chamber of Commerce board member. It was originally a kids' day, with hot chocolate and cookies, Santa Claus, a free movie, a bonfire, Christmas caroling and a fireworks display.

"We'd give the kids little bags of goodies in the cabin" Braun said. "It was an open house type of thing. People would come and go all day."

There used to be a pond near the chamber cabin, about where the parking lot of the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center is now, that the city of Kenai would flood so children could go skating during the festivities.

The electric light parade was added to the list of activities about four or five years ago, Braun said.

Weather permitting, the chamber is expecting a large turnout for the event. As of Tuesday, the forecast for Friday was mostly cloudy with a high of 38 degrees and a low of 27 degrees.

"It's going to be a fabulous event," Walaszek said. "Everyone's really excited about the lineup."

She said a wide variety of business and community agencies contribute to support the annual event.

"To me, the point is that it's a community tradition and the community is coming together to make it a success," Walaszek said. "We couldn't possibly do this by ourselves. Before I was involved with the chamber I had no idea how many organizations and companies it takes with the chamber to make this happen."

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