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Lights, music, dancing and Santa Claus arriving from the air will provide a festive backdrop for the holiday season in the coming weeks in Alaska's capital.
Gov. Frank Murkowski will greet people with first lady Nancy Murkowski Dec. 6 at the Governor's Mansion, 716 Calhoun Ave., in a tradition more than 90 years old.
"Just look for the house with six lit columns and a shooting star coming off the roof," said Karen Newton, the executive residence manager and assistant to the first lady. It will be the 15th holiday open house Newton will organize, and the last before she retires in January. "I've covered all the parties, she said, referring to independent Walter Hickel, Democrat Tony Knowles and Republican Murkowski.
But the open house is a different sort of party, with entertainment and refreshments. "We usually expect a little over 2,000 people," Newton said. The open house has drawn more than 3,000, she added.
The open house has been held every year since 1913, except for a couple of years during World War II. The governor's commissioners will serve cookies and hot cider to people waiting in line to shake hands with the Murkowskis before the visitors proceed to the dining table.
There they will find cookies and cakes prepared by the staff at the house, which will be decorated for the holiday. Punch and cider will be served in the library, and local groups will fill the house with music, Newton said.
People with special accessibility needs can call Newton at 465-3500 to make arrangements to attend, she said.
Douglas will light up with its Christmas tree ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday at 1106 Third St. People are asked to bring flashlights and leave dogs at home.
The lighting ceremony will be followed at 2 p.m. by skating with Santa Claus and his elves at Treadwell Arena, 105 Savikko Road.
Homes throughout the community will be decorated with colored lights. Again this year, Coastal Helicopters will offer short flights so people can see the decorated Mendenhall Valley.
This year the flights will take place on Friday, Dec. 16, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., weather permitting, said Lisa Haffner, the company's marketing director. Flights will leave the north wing of the airport terminal building.
The cost will be $25 per person, and the proceeds will benefit neurofibromatosis patients and the Lions Sight Project. Pilots will donate their time, and Coastal Fuel and Petro Marine will donate fuel.
Haffner said there are no reservations. People will go on a first-come, first-serve basis. "Last year a lot of people brought their kids," she said.
The downtown lights will be on display Dec. 2 for Juneau Arts and Humanities Council Gallery Walk. Program coordinator Jenny Quinn said of all the gallery walks, "December is the big one. There's a lot more participation among the businesses in town, and usually people stay open longer."
Santa Claus will make a number of appearances around Juneau in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
He will be arriving by helicopter at Mendenhall Mall at 3:30 p.m. Friday, said mall manager Rhonda Jackson-Bear. Children can have their pictures taken with Santa until 6 p.m. Friday.
A helicopter will bring Santa to Nugget Mall at 11 a.m. Saturday. Santa will return to both malls in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Janice D. Holst asserted that Santa Claus has confirmed he will be at this year's production of "The Grumpsicle," Dec. 17 and 18 at Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. For the 27th year in Juneau, the Grumpsicle, "a really nasty creature" tries to take the joy out of Christmas, this year invading candy land, Holst said.
"People ask me if he's coming back," Holst said. She produced Grumpsicle shows for three years in New Jersey before she brought it to Juneau, and the villain hasn't run out of ideas on how to spoil the holiday.
With more than 100 people involved in the cast and crew, including children who have grandparents who performed in Grumpsicle shows when they were younger, people will have a good time thwarting him, she said. The show will run at 7 p.m. Dec. 17 and 2 p.m. Dec. 18.
In other holiday productions this season, there will be two versions of Tchaikovsky's holiday classic "The Nutcracker." L'Ecole de Ballet will present the play at 7 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. 27, at the JDHS auditorium. Juneau Dance Unlimited will perform Dec. 15 and 16 at JDHS.
Also in December, Perseverance Theatre will bring back "King Island Christmas," a staple at the theater in the late 1990s. The play opens Dec. 1 at the JDHS auditorium and closes Dec. 4.
The theater is also resurrecting its second-stage production of "SantaLand Diaries" for a four-day run at Juneau bars, before it leaves for a two-week tour of Southeast Alaska. It plays Dec. 1 and 2 at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar, Dec. 3 at Squires Rest and Dec. 4 at The Island Pub.
Dec. 17, the first day of the school holiday break, will mark the first day of the Snowflake Festival at the Eaglecrest Ski Area, which will be marking its 30th season this year, said Barbara Lindh, a ski instructor organizing the activities on the mountain. The ceremony celebrating the lighting of the Christmas tree will be 3:30 p.m. that Saturday.
Santa Claus will visit Eaglecrest on Christmas Eve, Lindh claimed. After a holiday singalong at 4:30 p.m., an adult torchlight parade at 5:30 p.m. and a kids torchlight parade at 6 p.m., Santa Claus is scheduled to arrive at 6:15 p.m. with gifts for pre-registered children, she said.
The other big day at Eaglecrest this holiday season will be Jan. 1, Lindh said. "We'll have a big bonfire," she said. Live music in the lodge is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m., and a fireworks display is scheduled for 5 p.m.
Before fireworks celebrate the beginning of the new year, some people will be greeting 2006 head on in the chilly waters of Auke Bay for Juneau's annual Polar Bear Dip. Barbara Greening, one of the original organizers, said it's a tradition at 1 p.m., Jan. 1, at the big shelter at the Auke Village Recreation Area.
"Everybody's welcome," she said. "There's always a nice warm fire for everyone to come back to."
Tony Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.