Christmas arrived in Kenai with a bang Friday night, as area residents ushered in the yuletide season with fireworks, a bonfire, the Electric Light Parade and plenty of holiday cheer.
"It's going awesome," said a chilly, yet enthusiastic Kenai Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Colleen Canady, as she directed traffic during the light parade.
Canady thanked the many volunteers who helped with the event, as well as the city and its public safety employees for making sure the celebration went off without a hitch.
"The city has just been great," she said.
She noted that without the help of the police and fire departments directing traffic and supervising the bonfire, Christmas Comes to Kenai would not be possible.
"We have the best police and fire department in the whole world," she said
The Christmas Comes to Kenai event is the city's annual celebration of all things Christ-mas, and Friday's event was no exception.
The day kicked off in grand style with a visit from none other than the biggest celebrity of the holiday season, Santa Claus. The world's jolliest elf met with children for several hours at the former Gary King's store, taking special note of each child's Christmas requests.
He then stuck around for the festivities, riding in a Kenai fire truck during the parade, which featured more than 20 brightly-lit floats cruising slowly down Frontage Road.
A large crowd most either bundled in heavy winter clothes or watching from vehicles gathered to take in the show as it made its way toward the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center parking lot.
The evening's special guest said he took part in the annual post-Thanksgiving celebration because he needed to get away from the North Pole for a bit of exercise following a big holiday feast.
Fireworks light the sky above the Turnbull family during Friday's festivities.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"Right after the big meal Mrs. Claus made, I figured I better walk it off," Santa said.
"Ho, Ho, Ho!" he added.
Following the parade, the crowd and parade participants gathered outside the chamber cabin for a bonfire and sing-along, as well as the official lighting of the city's Christmas tree by Kenai Mayor John Williams.
The event was attended by a large number of families, with groups of children running merrily through the crowd, pausing only to make snow angels or toss the occasional good-natured snowball.
Kenai's Ben and Breezy Stevens, who brought their two boys, Liam and Keeley, to the celebration, said they never miss the annual event.
"It's a tradition," Breezy said.
"We never miss a year," added Ben. "This is the whole reason we moved here."
Stevens said it's the community spirit of the celebration that draws him and his family out into the cold each year.
"You don't see stuff like this in Anchorage," he said. "I mean, I'll go up (to the bonfire) and probably see 10 people I know."
The Stevenses have been attending Christmas Comes to Kenai for years, but you didn't have to be an expert to get caught up in the excitement.
Williams Express employee Moe Hensley said she enjoyed her first Christmas Comes to Kenai on Friday, even though chilly temperatures made it a bit tough to stand out in the cold for so long.
The Weeks family watches the electric light parade Friday night from the comfort of their idling van.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"This is my first time," said Hensley, shivering despite the stocking cap and pointy ears she wore as part of the elf costume she donned for Williams' entry into the parade.
"It's cold, but it's fun," she said.
The evening culminated in the city's famous fireworks display, long a staple of the Kenai winter calendar. As families and groups of friends gathered in groups across the city, the flash and boom of the display took center stage.
"Oohs" and "ahhs" were audible throughout the show, which lasted approximately 20 minutes. The fireworks ended with a large grand finale that put the ideal finishing touch on what turned out to be a day-long blast for the people of Kenai.
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