Neither rain nor gloom of night nor a sugar rush from cookies could stay a crowd from glowfully singing during a Christmas tree lighting ceremony outside Douglas Community United Methodist Church on Friday.
More than 50 people gathered outside the church, many of whom would join hundreds of other Juneau residents at an annual Santa Skate shortly afterward at Treadwell Arena. It marked a free and thus commercial-free conclusion to a day of local Black Friday activities marking the traditional beginning of the holiday season.
The tree lighting and Santa Skate were hosted by the Douglas 4th of July Committee. An abundance of homemade cookies individually wrapped in plastic bags to keep them dry — and fresh for later, for those who’d already eaten their fill — along with sheets of songs to sing were passed out.
Maggie Swanson, president of the committee, began the tree-lighting ceremony by reminding those gathered outside the church that miners from early times got two days off a year — the Fourth of July and Christmas — so the committee honors those workers with events centered around those two occasions.
“Our focus is on children, and family and community,” she said.
An invocation was offered by Kim Poole, the church’s pastor, who appealed to attendees to seek the blessings of food for body and soul.
“Remember yesterday that you ate and gave thanks,” she said. “There’s a lot of cookies so you need to continue to eat and give thanks, and fill your pockets with them so that you have something to munch on as you get to the rink. And just as you said some form of gratitude yesterday, in whatever way is most appropriate for you to experience the beauty and the reverence of light and silence, let us pause to listen to the rain.”
After a short period of silence, Poole encouraged those gathered to “feel the excitement of the children as we get ready for this season of giving and joy and hope, and may each one of us carry from this place this evening wishes for peace in a world that seems to find it so difficult to find peace, hope when it’s so difficult to find hope, joy each day when the sun rises.”
The lighting of the tree was performed by Ed Schoenfeld, a preeminent Douglas resident who was grand marshal of this year’s Douglas Fourth of July parade. He reminded those present that Douglas remains its own community, not “just a suburb of Juneau,” and at this time of year it’s good to remember the original town’s original Tlingit name of Anax̱ Ya Andagan Yé, meaning “where sunlight touches first.”
“It doesn’t feel like there’s much sunlight at this time,” he said, ending by telling the crowd to start the countdown from ten for the lighting of the tree.
A cheer went up as the tree shined some light on those gathered, who then ended the gathering by singing a trio of Christmas carols and grabbing some of the remaining cookies before many made their way to the arena for the Santa Skate.