Winterfest, an annual holiday gathering in Kirkland, has been a pillar in the community since the 1980s.
But it was only about a decade ago when city officials realized just how significant it was to residents. According to Kirkland Mayor Penny Sweet, who has also been the event’s chair for several years, the city put out a survey about eight years ago that asked the public which community programs were most meaningful to them. At No. 3 was the summer-concert series; No. 2 was Kirkland’s Fourth of July celebration. Topping the list was Winterfest.
“Every time that we can figure out ways to pull the community together — I think that’s really important,” Sweet said.
The traditional get-together, which is put on in collaboration with the city and the Kirkland Downtown Association, has found success through consistency and is taking place from 3-6 p.m. on Dec. 7 at Marina Park, 25 Lakeshore Plaza.
Dependably, the event comes with a tree-lighting ceremony that kicks off at about 5 p.m., a Santa-hosted photo opp, interactive animals (in 2018, it was llamas; this year, it’s alpacas), food trucks and more.
Sweet hopes it snows this year in the mountains in time because, typically, one of Winterfest’s sponsors, Light Community Church, takes a semi-truck to the hills, picks up a large amount of snow and then builds a sledding hill just for the event.
Per usual, city councilmembers will help pass out hot cocoa and cider. To Sweet’s estimate, about 1,000 mugs of winter beverages were passed out last year.
The mayor brought up that the event’s effectiveness has in part to do with how the city and the downtown association deliver what their audience wants.
“Originally I think we would have loved it if it would have turned into this marvelous shopping day for everybody,” Sweet said. “But the reality is…people come down to experience the Christmas tree, see Santa, ride down the hill.”
Sweet said the city and downtown association are also in talks to co-plan a menorah-lighting event with a local synagogue in celebration of Hanukkah.
Even if the decades-strong event is relatively simple in its approach and what it offers, Sweet noted that to many Kirkland residents, attending Winterfest gives weight to the holiday season.
“This is just basically the process of getting the Kirkland holiday celebration kicked off and going,” she said.
Sweet added that while one of the major totems of the event — the lighting of the tree — might be most associated with Christmas, it signifies something universal for Kirkland.
“It’s not just a Christian holiday,” she said of the celebration from which the tree takes its name. “It’s symbolic of the whole community to have something to come together around.”
For more information about this year’s Winterfest, visit bit.ly/2O54qEN.