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By RAEGAN MILLER
Daily News Staff Writer
As friends and family crowded on sidewalks and outside downtown storefronts on Sunday evening, it was difficult to forget that Christmas will be upon Ketchikan in a few short weeks.
Hundreds of First City residents gathered at 4 p.m. at the Ketchikan Fire Department’s Station 1 at 70 Bawden S. for the annual Ketchikan Community Holiday Festival, which featured the lighting of the community Christmas tree and an appearance by Santa Claus himself.
At the start of the event, community members were led from Station 1 to the Federal Building parking lot, where the darkened tree stood ready to be lit.
As a quartet of bagpipers finished playing classic holiday carols, City of Ketchikan Assistant Manager Lacey Simpson addressed the gathered crowd.
During her announcement, Simpson revealed that this year, the tree topper was a commissioned piece by local artist Rhonda Green.
“Thank you very much, Rhonda Green, we appreciate your creative efforts,” Simpson said.
Simpson added that she believed the topper was “very much indicative of Ketchikan” because it features salmon swimming in a glowing water fountain of green, white and blue lights.
“That was her concept, to do something that was very Ketchikan and salmon being one of our kind of iconic symbols in town (was her choice),” Simpson later explained to the Daily News.
After Simpson thanked Green - who was not present at the event - for her work on the tree topper, she introduced a special guest.
A fire truck dropped off Santa Claus, portrayed by community member Hunter Davis, next to the tree. Dressed in the customary red suit and sporting a fluffy white beard, Davis enlisted help from a young girl in the audience to finally light the community tree.
On the count of three, the girl lit the tree by pushing a lever on a big red box next to the tree.
“I would like to think that the light of this tree represents the light of this season,” Davis said after the tree was lit.
Simpson later explained that the City of Ketchikan decided to create a budget for a commissioned tree topper this summer. This year is the first year the topper was created via an open call for art from residents.
“This year was a little special because we commissioned that tree topper by Rhonda Green, so that took place quite awhile ago,” Simpson explained.
Green’s design had to be approved by a committee for the project and was then brought before the city council. After the project was approved, preparations for the event began in September.
Simpson said that Green’s project wasn’t just a creative endeavor.
“It was kind of an engineering and construction project,” Simpson said of the tree topper, which had to be made to fit the tree.
“It will be our tree topper,” Simpson said. “We just wanted to do one and hopefully we’ll have it many years into the future, (and) just like a Christmas ornament at home, it will be one of those beloved things that we bring out every year and that you look forward to.”