With the Thanksgiving holiday in the belly for many, the central peninsula will turn the page toward another seasonal celebration today as the Kenai Chamber of Commerce hosts the annual "Christmas Comes to Kenai" festivities.
"I'm not sure how long it's been going," said Tina Baldridge, executive director of the chamber, "but it's been going since before we moved to this building, which was in '76, so it's been at least 30 years."
This long-time tradition will begin with Santa arriving at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center aboard a Kenai Fire Department fire engine at 11 a.m. This prestigious role has been played by a handful of folks over the years, but this season Tim Navarre will again be serving as Old St. Nick.
"It's been about 18 years that I've been doing it," he said.
Navarre said the role has been quite natural for him to fill.
"I don't mind doing it for the community," he said. "I was raised with 10 brothers and sisters, and I have a lot of nieces and nephews, so I love kids."
Navarre said the job of playing Santa was actually easier than wearing the costume, at least in the beginning.
"I use fewer pillows for stuffing, now compared to then," he said.
Beyond this one hurdle, though, Navarre said he has always worked hard to be a convincing Santa.
"When you're at it long enough, you start to learn a few tricks of the trade," he said. "I'll research things by going to toy stores or looking on the Internet to see what toys the kids are into. Then, when they say what they want, I can ask 'You mean the red one or the blue one?'"
Navarre said he also attempts to make the children believe he is the real Santa by appearing to know who they are -- each and everyone.
"I know a lot of people in this community, and a lot of families with little kids, so if I see a kid I know, I will say their name," he said. "And if I don't know them, I try to listen for their parents to say the name while in line. It always gets them excited."
Navarre said he also keeps in mind that for some of the children and parents, he is making memories that will last them a lifetime.
"If a kid is afraid -- and every year there are a few -- I'll kneel down and try to give them a candy cane," he said. "I'll also stand or kneel with large groups or large families, since I know they're not just taking a picture, they're taking a memory shot."
Santa will be available for photos until about 3 p.m., according to Baldridge, and there will be fresh baked cookies donated by The Senior Connection, Funky Monkey, Charlotte's Restaurant, and Country Foods. There will also be hot chocolate from McDonald's and candy canes courtesy of Peterkin Distributors.
The Electric Lights Parade will begin at 6 p.m., followed by a bonfire and fireworks at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 283-7989 or visit the Chamber online at www.kenaichamber.org.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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