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Santa arrives the night before Christmas in region's small towns

Posted: Sunday, December 24, 2000

Children will be opening Christmas presents this evening during community events throughout Southeast Alaska. Hundreds of residents show up for the celebrations in the towns and villages.

The Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood camps in Angoon and Hoonah raise funds, wrap presents, find Christmas trees, prepare food and decorate their respective halls.

"The whole town shows up," said Marlene Zuboff of Angoon. "The only ones who don't are disabled or sick with the flu, and they're also taken care of.

"It's a time for the whole community to put on its finest clothing and come together like a big family."

Zuboff said the tradition started almost 80 years ago. The community raised more than $3,000 to pay for this year's event.

ANS president Francine Willis estimated more than 2,500 gifts will be opened at the Angoon event.

"Everybody takes the gifts from their houses and brings them to the ANB Hall," Willis said. "We put a bunch of gifts in Santa's bag, without giving him a hernia, and the rest go on the stage."

In both towns, people gather in the early evening to eat, sing and put on skits while waiting for the latest update on Santa Claus' arrival.

Dennis Gray Sr., chairman of the Hoonah community tree program, said the event has grown to where he expects about 500 people to show up.

"When the kids sing 'Jingle Bells,' we tell them to sing louder so Santa can find his way," Gray said. "They just about blow the roof off."

There are also somber moments, when Hoonah residents pay special tribute to those who died in the past year.

"We try to cheer up people who lost family members," Gray said. "It's been a tough year, we've lost quite a few people."

Skagway's Christmas celebration started with soldiers stationed there in World War II giving gifts to the town's kids. The event is now held in the local Eagles Hall, with every child from the 4th grade and younger receiving a present.

Wendy Anderson, a member of the Eagles Auxiliary, said Santa has a list of almost 100 names in alphabetical order, from Brian Beckner to William Whitesides. He's been checking it twice.

"More like three or four or five times," Anderson said. "We don't want to miss any kids and cause any heartache. Santa always brings extra just in case."

The gifts range from Play-Doh to Nerf footballs to beading kits.

"I never experienced the traditional small-town Christmas celebration until I moved here from Seattle," Anderson said. "It's a chance to share in the joy of giving."

Mike Sica can be reached at msica@juneauempire.com.



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