With sirens blaring, cookies baking, bonfires burning, fireworks blasting, Drumlines drumming, soldiers saluting, and Santa Claus waving under moonlit arctic nights, the 2009 Holidays are happily underway on the Central Peninsula. Long before the day after Thanksgiving became known as "Black Friday", it was the traditional day for "Christmas Comes to Kenai," and Santa's first visit to the Peninsula sponsored by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce. "This 30-plus year tradition in Kenai has been a success year after year, thanks to our dedicated community members. Although the Kenai Chamber of Commerce is responsible for hosting this event, it is truly made possible by the folks in our community. From cookies and hot chocolate to our volunteer Santa Claus, Tim Navarre, there is a myriad of donations and volunteer support that makes this event possible and so much fun for the community. We couldn't do it without them," said KCC executive director Tina Baldridge. According to Baldridge photos with Santa this year will be available for downloading at www.kenaichamber.shutterfly.com through Dec. 15th, due to Polaroid discontinuing their instant film camera.
The following Wednesday over at Central Emergency Services (CES) it was Soldotna's turn for a visit from Santa and the traditional lighting of their living holiday tree. Mayor Peter Micciche joined the "Jolly Ol' Elf" for the official plug-in, and then gathered with VFW Post commander Pat Hawkins, American Legion chaplain Herb Stetler, and SPW "Airborne" retiree Steve Wright, for the inaugural lighting of a new Yellow Ribbon tree that will stay lit 365 days a year until all local military service men and women return home. "This is just another way of showing support for military familiespast, present and future from Soldotna. The city wants all that have served and are presently serving, to know that we love and support you. Our yellow beacon of hope that we will be lighting tonight, is a small token that will remain lit here until all that are deployed return, and as a memorial to all that have not returned in the past," said Micciche. The mayor encouraged families and loved ones of those in military service to bring a plastic magnetic yellow ribbon to hang on the tree in a manner that won't hurt the tree as it grows and may be replaced as they weather. "The ultimate objective here is that families with those deployed will drive by and know we are behind them. And when those that are deployed return, they will be warmed by Soldotna's support for them. We want this tree to always look bright, fresh and welcoming to best represent how we feel about those that have made the commitment to keep us free and safe," added Micciche. "I hung my ribbon tonight in honor of SSgt Adam Tressler, a U.S. Army Green Beret who has been deployed and unable to come home for two years. So with the hanging of that ribbon, goes our hopes and prayers that he comes home alive and well soon," said Steve Wright. "It was a special honor to be here tonight for the revival of the yellow ribbon tree ceremony. I pray every night for the safe return of these brave men and women, they have a tough row to hoe, and this is another reminder for us as we drive by this tree to remember each of them," added Herb Stetler. The plastic magnetic yellow ribbons are available on line at www.magnetamerica.com.
To add to the festivities, more than fifty trees throughout Soldotna's business corridor were also lit with white lights as a show of support for the building of the new community playground. According to Micciche, for a $50 dollar contribution to the playground building fund, a tree was decorated with white lights in front of local businesses. Along with the tree lighting ceremonies, the Soldotna Chamber provided hot cocoa and cookies for families wanting to join Santa and his elves inside CES for a little wish listing. Outside of CES, Diamond M Ranch provided free hayrides for anyone wishing a short tour of the city, which was complimented with with the fragrance of hay and spontaneous singing of Jingle Bells. It is a sure thing that in the twin river cities, "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas".
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