It was 1998 when the Festival of Chimes and Lights was first brought to life in Port Orchard, beginning as a way to commemorate the installation of the chimes atop the clock tower at the new City Hall.
The festival has since become a treasured holiday tradition in the city, and for many involved, it now seems impossible to welcome the holidays without it.
“This is the start of the season,” Katie Olson said. “To me, it’s the community coming together in a joyful way. There’s nobody coming here that’s looking to do anything other than have a joyful experience and support each other.”
The 25th annual Festival of Chimes and Light brought thousands of visitors from inside and outside Kitsap County to the downtown area Dec. 2, with Olson’s EPOpians, the elementary choir at East Port Orchard Elementary, being one of several groups to help start the season right.
She said she has always relished the chance to be involved with the festivities in her 17-year career at EPO. “It’s almost always my choir’s first performance of the year, so it’s always kind of our premier. It’s a chance I get to see some former students, and they always come early so they can see the kids following in their footsteps,” she said.
Aside from construction to renovate City Hall pushing the stage and tree lighting toward the Water Street Boat Launch area, it was business as usual for just the second year in a row since COVID-19 altered the ‘20 and ‘21 celebrations. Both pooches and persons came costumed for the pet parade, Christmas decor could be seen everywhere on land and water, and the South Kitsap High School marching band gave Santa a warm welcome in the cooler temperatures.
Councilwoman Cindy Lucarelli took the stage before Santa’s arrival to introduce another former councilmember in Carolyn Powers as this year’s honorary tree lighter.
“It’s community and getting everybody out together, having fun in the Christmas spirit,” said South Kitsap School District Director Kate Espy. “It’s tradition. My kids were here when they were younger, and I still love it.”
As usual, the festival brought new faces as well as old. Behind one of the many Santa disguises out to celebrate the festival was Jeremey Stapley, who is still settling down in his first year as a Port Orchard resident. “The things that are done out here on the peninsula they don’t do in much of the other places. It was nice to be able to see different community events that bring people together.”
The festival also marked a somber moment as well for the head of one involved organization. Fathoms O’ Fun chair Sharron King reflected once more as she had back in June on her 35 years of involvement with the organization and downtown celebrations such as this.
“The Chimes and Lights festival is just the camaraderie of all the people coming to town, celebrating the joy of the holiday season,” she said. “It’s unbelievable to give up something that you love so much.”