By WIN GRUENING
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.