A gingerbread house of the Red Onion Saloon and Sugar Mama's is on display in a window in Skagway.

A gingerbread house of the Red Onion Saloon and Sugar Mama's is on display in a window in Skagway.

Yuletide in Skagway has an “old-world” feel

On a snaining Friday in early December, downtown Skagway was quiet — at least until Yuletide celebrators crowded the sidewalk and slushy streets of 5th and Broadway, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive in his festive fire engine, flip a switch, and light up the town’s Christmas tree.

For decades, Yuletide has been a big Skagway tradition made up of more detailed ones. During the weekends leading up to Christmas, Santa rides the White Pass train with local kids, people dance during the Yuletide Ball, and of course, Santa arrives by fire engine to kick everything off.

That first Friday of Yuletide, Skagway residents clustered under the awnings of 5th Street buildings or ducked inside open shops for hot chocolate, cookies, and gift shopping, or listened to the carolers sheltered under the tree.

Some families had already gotten a sneak peek at the fire engine a few hours earlier at the Skagway Fire Station’s open house. One little girl had been excitedly talking about Santa; she asked her mother when Santa was coming. Her mother told her “Soon” — the fire engine this weekend and the train the next.

Many other children shared the little girl’s excitement. When the fire engine paraded down Broadway after 5:30 p.m., arrayed in lights, parents held kids up for a better view. The crowd converged on Santa after he exited the fire engine. He greeted kids as he slowly made his way to the Christmas tree’s overlarge switch.

“Flip the switch!” some people began chanting.

Eventually, Santa did, springing the multicolored lights and yellow star atop the tree to life. The carolers sang “Oh Christmas Tree,” and Santa slowly made his way back to the engine. Soon the crowd dispersed, some to shops, others to see the new exhibits at the Klondike Gold Rush Historical Park, or to preview the gingerbread houses competing at the clothing store Klothes Rush later.


‘Old world’ holiday feel

“[Skagway] has an old world, small town holiday feel,” said Wendy Anderson, a visitor information specialist 1 at the Skagway Convention & Visitors Bureau and member of the Yuletide Committee.

With the crunch of snow underfoot as people walked along the boardwalk past the lit-up store fronts — one with an elaborate winter wonderland display with an automated train continuously lapping its track —it’s clear that Yuletide is a theme the town embraces.

Anderson has been on the Yuletide Committee about four to five years.

Yuletide is a community effort and city-wide event, she said; it goes beyond the people on the Yuletide Committee. The Skagway Chamber of Commerce, the municipality of Skagway, local businesses and volunteers all come together to make the event an annual one.

The December events are a nice draw for people who want a short holiday getaway, she explained. The smaller holiday events like the school bazaar, wine tasting, and high teas hosted in locals’ homes make a nice accompaniment for the big events like Santa on the fire engine, Santa on the train and the Yuletide Ball. There are activities for both kids and adults.

“We’ve had a tremendous increase of people coming to Yuletide (from Southeast Alaska and Canada,)” Anderson said.


Upcoming Yuletide

Numerous Skagway locals said they were excited about the White Pass train ride.

One of them was a woman who identified herself as Barb. She’s taught Emergency Medical Services at the Skagway Fire Station and has lived in town for about 30 years. At the school bazaar on Saturday, she said the Santa train ride weekend is great time to come to Skagway to experience Yuletide.

That happens Saturday, Dec. 10 at 11 a.m. Children and their families will be able to take a free train ride as far up as Clifton (9 miles up the tracks) with Santa. They get to take pictures with him too.

This tradition has been going on since at least the 1960s, said Jacqueline Taylor-Rose, the manager of marketing and product development for White Pass & Yukon Route railway. The train comes to the depot, Santa spends time with the kids, and once all the kids have had a chance to be with Santa, the train is on its way.

On Saturday, Dec. 17 at 6:30 p.m. is the Yuletide Ball. In the past, Anderson explained, they had a Victorian theme for the ball. They had their first one in 1993, according to the Skagway News.

This year, the theme is Celtic. Juneau Celtic rock band Fire on McGinnis will perform while people dance and eat a Celtic-inspired meal. All money from the event goes to the Skagway Climate Change Group. Winners of the Helen B. Clark Award (given to outstanding volunteers in the community), the gingerbread house competition and the photo contest will be announced that evening as well.

For more information about Yuletide events or visiting Skagway, go to Skagway.com.


Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer Clara Miller at clara.miller@morris.com.

Yuletide in Skagway has an "old-world" feel

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