Win Gruening: Juneau Christmas, past and present



Growing up in Juneau in the 50’s and 60’s was a real treat, especially around Christmas. The weather seemed more predictable (even if mail delivery was not) and fun activities were the order of the day.  

I hope weather records don’t make me a liar but it seemed like most of our winters were blessed with lots of deep snow.  That meant skiing in the Douglas Ski Bowl, sledding down Starr Hill or the Evergreen Cemetery, ice skating on Auke Lake, and hooky-bobbing downtown after school and on the weekends. As a family,  we also attended high school basketball tournaments and, like many still do, went Christmas tree hunting. Afterwards, we’d inevitably spend time surgically adding branches to our tree before decorating it.  

There were many neighborhood holiday get-togethers with gift and cookie exchanges where Santa arrived unannounced and a number of New Year’s Eve parties where, as a child, I played the Baby New Year and my dad played Father Time. Meals were memorable. It was a grand time.

In the past, Juneau was a wonderful place to celebrate the Christmas holidays and it remains so to this time – even more so.

Today, in addition to the varied and numerous religious services available, Juneau’s December events calendar shows how culturally rich our town can be. There is literally something for everyone to enjoy. The following is just a sample of 2022 holiday offerings and activities.

  • The Filipino Community annual Christmas party invites everyone in Juneau to a mixture of American and Filipino holiday food with Christmas carols followed by games and presents for kids
  • Celebration of the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe featuring tamales and Mexican chocolate hosted by the Juneau Hispanic Ministry at St. Paul’s Catholic Church
  • Family events celebrating Hanukkah sponsored by Congregation Sukkat  Shalom
  • Governor Mike Dunleavy and First Lady Rose Dunleavy invitation to Alaskans to the Governor’s Annual Holiday Open House at the Governor’s Residence
  • Eventide Carols at the Shrine of St. Therese sponsored by the Juneau Lyric Opera
  • Juneau Skating Club Holiday Show featuring Alaska’s only competitive synchronized skating team at Treadwell Arena
  • Chapel-by-the-Lake sponsored Christmas Party for kids featuring craft activities and a  ”A Charlie Brown Christmas” movie
  • Twelve days of entertainment leading up to Christmas at the Crystal Saloon featuring the original 1935 Scrooge movie, Victorian caroling, winter formal dance, and more
  • Juneau Holiday Village, a month-long holiday celebration featuring performances by Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM) elementary school musicians
  • Christmas Tree Lighting by the Douglas Community and skate with Santa at Treadwell Ice Arena
  • Juneau Symphony’s Holiday Cheer Concert at Thunder Mountain High School
  • Christmas Eve Celebration at Eaglecrest Ski Area filled with music, cookies, Christmas stories and Torchlight Parade with Santa
  • Holiday performance of the JDHS Concert Band, Jazz Band, and Wind Ensemble
  • Helicopter flights over twinkling night lights of Juneau sponsored by Juneau Lions Club and Coastal Helicopters with proceeds benefiting non-profits
  • The Nutcracker ballet performed by the Juneau Dance Theater at JDHS Auditorium
  • Juneau firefighters bringing extra holiday cheer to Juneau and their families with decorated fire trucks as they parade the streets of Juneau together with Santa
  • Candy Cane Hunt sponsored by Juneau Parks and Recreation
  • Adopt-A-Family Christmas Gift Program sponsored by St. Vincent de Paul
  • Racheal MacLeod Christmas Box Dinner sponsored by Salvation Army and other community organizations for families in need

Christmas is, first and foremost, a sacred religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. But it’s also a world-wide cultural and commercial phenomenon. Although Juneau is not a large city, it has a huge heart and generous spirit. It has always amazed me how holiday activities in Juneau are supported year-in and year-out through the creativity and kindness of so many.  

Hats off to our religious organizations, schools, private businesses, non-profits, fire department, Parks and Recreation Department, and of course, Juneau’s arts and culture community that delivers wholesome, entertaining, and diverse performances, without all the fancy facilities and venues found in big cities. 

This is how we teach our kids that Christmas isn’t just about getting gifts, it’s about realizing the gifts you already have and sharing with others.

After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in Alaska, Win Gruening became a regular opinion page columnist for the Juneau Empire. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations.

Reasons for ballot rejection: Signatures, postmarks


  1. Win’s column brings back many fine memories of Juneau Christmases from the ’60s. Trudging through the snow as a Paperboy delivering the Empire along Gastineau Ave, South Franklin and through the Village. Subscribers inviting me in for cookies and hot chocolate, and gifts of wool socks!

    Later in the ’70s and 80’s it was the festive feeling one got while shopping for gifts Downtown. It was a true community social event. Followed of course by stopping into the Triangle Club for a Hot Buttered Rum!
    I miss Old Juneau. 😢

  2. My first Christmas I was stunned by the sledding into the cemetery. I quickly got over it as I understood that was uniquely Juneau. Make use out of what you’ve got.

    These days there isn’t as much sledding as there used to be. Fewer and fewer kids, and the current generation seems to prefer PlayStation sledding to actually doing it.

    But except for the lack of KFC, a bad day here beats any day in Anchorage.

  3. My Christmas Memory lane from Palmer ,Ak was wonderful also! Palmer Movie House , The Variety Store Koslosky & Sons Department Store shopping & of course the D”Gutter Bowling Alley downtown next to the Palmer Hotel ! I also had a Paperboy job, after school ,at what is now the Matsu Borough offices! Christmas around Palmer was windy at times coming down the Old Mighty Matanuska River but that didn’t stop us kids from sledding down the hills around town from Buggies Hill to Snodgrass’s Dairy Farm Hill. The Culture of the “New Deal ” Matsu Colony Families was full of Bread Basket Social’s & Gatherings at the “Palmer Depot ” the Teenagers worked hard to maintain a “Teen Center” that my sister Linda & other girls started with many businesses around town supported to keep us kids busy & out of trouble.. Ha Ha
    Oh what great memories & which I enjoy more as I get older now on the Kenai today ! I wish every Alaskan a very rich remembrance of Old & New as we make it through this Festive Season , God Bless ! Thank you, Win & Robert !

  4. Not to worry about snowfall. The Juneau Assembly is right now spending $10 million or more on a tram at the city-owned ski resort, and they would have us believe that while that ski resort isn’t open right now (when Christmas vacation for all the state employees is the optimum time for lift ticket sales), once the tram is operating there will unquestionably be a lot more snow. The Assembly motto continues to be, Build It and Everything Will Be OK. I think it has to do with climate change and the choice of a hockey stick to graphically corroborate the climate change story. Al Gore and John Kerry were born in a manger one Christmas, and now God has given them executive jet aircraft to zoom around the globe preaching the global warming liturgy and getting laid. It’s really a wonderful story.

    • Actually, Eaglecrest IS open right now and the snowpack is @110 inches at the summit. The new (used) gondola system (NOT a tram) is purposed to provide additional winter terrain access to areas that currently must be hike/traverse accessed, but more fiscally important, to provide summer access opening the greater Eaglecrest recreation area up for more summer visitors, both local and tourist, and providing opportunity for increased private business operators as well. Will it end up paying for itself as projected (even supported by Win Gruening who is as fiscally savvy as they come)? Time will tell.
      Eaglecrest Christmas Eve (Saturday) activities 3 to 6 pm (from website):
      Santa is paying Eaglecrest a visit this Christmas Eve! We’ll have a torchlight parade on the Porcupine Chairlifts to light the way for him.
      Arts, crafts, and storytime in the Fish Creek Lodge starting at 3:00 PM.

      P.S. Exhibit some decorum and try not spewing negativisms under an article written to bring some cheer and light into people’s lives.

      • I’m sorry but a governmentally owned and operated ski resort, especially one that loses money most years, is not fiscally savvy. Businesses pay taxes to subsidize a ski area, and now the Assembly is doubling down to invest millions of dollars to expand it with the hopes of attracting tourists. But even if government should invest in a tourism and recreational enterprise, which it should not, that government should have numbers to support the belief that tourists will use the area enough that it will stop losing money. But the city government has no such numbers; not study, no proforma financial statements, no survey of skiers and tourists to support the notion that they will come in large enough numbers to Juneau to put Eaglecrest in the black. What in the world is savvy about this?

      • If eaglecrest is going to be brought into a conversation then you’re going to get some negative feedback. A few of us taxpayers are impressed with funding a ski area so a few people can pretend they live in a ski town. If this was a good place to ski then there would be a competitive market for ski hill developers. This isn’t a good place to ski so no developers would ever risk investing here. It’s not the city’s responsibility to provide you with downhill skiing. Move to a ski town.

        • Well, I helped pay for EgoCrest for nearly 30 years by paying the “temporary” sales tax in Juneau, though I never used the place. My kids went a time or two but never really had any interest. I went up there for office meetings and workshops a few times; the socialist austerity fit right in for State ambiance.

          I’ve thought that it might have a prayer without subsidy if it had a bar or two and a decent restaurant, but the reality is that nothing much has survived in Juneau outside the Downtown area. Anyway, all it would take would be one alcohol involved accident on that road and there’d be no more alcohol service. No decent or even mass market restaurant has ever survived in Juneau outside of the Downtown area. The demographics of Juneau have changed since Palin allowed directors to live anywhere and all that could moved themselves and their staffs to Anchorage; SR 12-16s are a very different market from SR 20-somethings. Even 15 years ago when I was a director, if my staff got together for drinks after work, I knew who was picking up the tab.

          Bottom line: EgoCrest simply isn’t economically viable and will always require a subsidy from the people who don’t use it or want it to support a pampered few whose egos demand it.

          • Practically every kid in town gets up there often Art. You are plain out to lunch with your “pampered few” as Eaglecrest is the place to be in winter for more than you think. Your screed is based on your ill informed 15 year old assumptions that don’t fit and likely didn’t even then.
            It’s struggled in poor winters but makes up for that when the snow is good and like many ventures, the pandemic didn’t help out as much inside stuff became more difficult. And there is a small bar for beer that had to change because of Covid.
            The kids and their snowboards are all over the mountain on weekends giving them great exercise as well as a good time-your kids must have been into video games.

      • In all fairness yes “be kind” the hill did open probably about the same time you wrote your response. Half the hill.

  5. Thank you, Win. Our family Christmas this year took part in four of the sponsored events you mentioned, as well as several other gatherings of friends and co-workers and fellow worshipers at Christmas Eve Mass. We are blessed and we know it, and your piece underscores that.

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