Downtown has a new Christmas focal point this year.
The Downtown Business Association sponsored its first Winterfest on Saturday, which culminated with the lighting of a large Christmas tree erected in Marine Park near the downtown library.
"This is something that we will be sponsoring for years to come - hopefully decades to come - to bring people downtown," event coordinator Melissa McCormick said. "This is a great event for people to realize that downtown is not all about tourists and what they do on the cruise ships. It's all about downtown and the people of downtown."
Children swarmed Santa Claus as he arrived at the park with a sackful of candy canes. The children then played together while parents mingled and drank hot chocolate and coffee to stay warm in the brisk evening air prior to the tree lighting.
Mayor Bruce Botelho spoke to the crowd of several dozen after the "King Island Christmas" singers entertained the group with a Christmas tune.
"I think these events give a chance to bring the community together in a way of celebration," Botelho said. "It's a chance for neighbors to get together, greet each other and share the spirit of the season."
Winterfest was made possible by the volunteer efforts of numerous businesses and citizens, DBA President Ann House said.
"We're really working and striving at being a unified force in downtown, and we want to create an energized community for this town where people can be proud to come and bring their visitors," she said. "We need a core center, and that is why we are working so hard."
Getting the tree downtown was a chore in itself, said Ken Alper, a member of the Downtown Rotary Club who helped decorate it. The tree was brought over from Gustavus with the help of Silverbow Construction, and Chatham Electric stepped in at the last minute to help erect it.
Alper said Rotary traditionally had a Christmas tree outside Centennial Hall but changed its plans this year when approached by the DBA.
"This is more public and more people are going to see it here than over by Centennial Hall," he said.
The tree, which can be seen across Gastineau Channel from Douglas Island, received cheers from the crowd when it was lit shortly after nightfall. Daria Wright brought her two sons, Brandon and Alexander, to see the tree lighting and to get into the Christmas spirit.
"We wanted to spend some time together as a family and to do fun things," she said. "We came to shop for other people, so I'm teaching them the meaning of Christmas is giving to others."
The mayor also said he enjoys spending time with his family.
"This is a time we can reflect about all the blessings we have as a community and to think about the necessary elements towards peace in our community, in our nation and in the world," he said.
Winterfest is just another way the DBA is helping bring the community together, Botelho said.
"DBA has been a critical voice for the downtown area in terms of promoting the downtown core as an economic driver in the community," he said.
DBA wrapped presents and offered cookies earlier in the day. The group plans to make the event larger in the years to come, McCormick said.
Eric Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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