The Beach is About to Get Lit

by Marcus Harrison Green

A multicultural Santa Claus trinity, jubilant carolers belting out holiday standards as they (stroll) down Rainier Avenue, and high wattage decorations radiating from the windows and doorways of local business that are sure to send electricity bills skyrocketing.   

It all adds up to Christmas arriving early in Rainier Beach.

Friday evening will see more than 30 of the neighborhood’s businesses and community organizations open their doors to residents near and far to usher in the holiday season with exotic foods, elaborate decorations, and holiday themed games as part of the 3rd annual Light Up the Beach Holiday Challenge.

Originated by the Rainier Beach Merchants Association (RBMA), the theme of this year’s family centered event is “All You Need Is Love”, a message that could not come at a better time for some of the participants.

“I think it’s definitely important to focus on community, especially with some of the things going on nationally,” says Jenna Mitchell, the owner of Rainier Beach Dance Center.

Mitchell’s dance studio, which caters to youth, will be hosting performances every 15 minutes on Friday beginning at 5:15pm with 15 of her students.

She says she jumped on board with Light up the Beach soon after taking over the Dance Center in 2013, because she adored the idea of face to face interaction between community members unfamiliar with one another.

“This allows people to get off their social media and really engage in some person to person contact with their neighbors. Plus, the focus isn’t just on buying presents,” she says.

Mitchell adds that it would be much more difficult to pull off Light up the Beach somewhere like downtown Seattle because of an absence of communal trust embedded in small neighborhoods.

Rainier Beach Dance Center preps for Light up the Beach. [Photo courtesy of Rainier Beach Merchants Association]
According to her, it’s also a chance for those outside of the neighborhood to see Rainier Beach for what it is, free of negative connotations.

“I have students who live in Tacoma, so I’m glad they get to see the whole of Rainier Beach. I’ve never felt more safe in a neighborhood. I love this place,” she shares.

Showing off the neighborhood is sentiment shared by Ashley Nienaber, a member of Emerald City Bible Fellowship who partnered with the Southeast Seattle Senior Center to host a “Luminaria Labyrinth” at the Rainier Beach Community Center Pavillion.

The 30 foot wide maze will be lit by 300 candles, allowing people to roam and bump into community members as they attempt to chart their path towards the exit.

An illuminated chicken at the Seattle Farm Co-Op [Photo courtesy of Rainier Beach Merchants Association]
“I really wanted to share a candlelit walk with the community,” says Nienaber, who will be enlisting the help of a handful of volunteers from her church to set up the labyrinth on Friday.

She says that the self-paced walk through the Labyrinth should take from 20 to 30 minutes.

Though Nienaber is a Christian, the Labyrinth is an interfaith project, and a call to unity in an area with devout practitioners of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

It’s ultimately a way to show off her home as well, which goes for the entirety of the event.

“We’re not bringing beauty to rainier Beach. We’re just showing it off,” she exclaims.

There will be much to see, as cookies, and hot chocolate will greet most visitors entering into participating businesses, as well as music and holiday décor that would make the fictional Griswold home in the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation seem spartan.

The only drawback to the free event, according to Rainier Dance Center’s Jenna Mitchell:

“As a business owner I’ll be so busy hosting people that I won’t be able to see what the other businesses are up to!”, the only lump of coal in what should otherwise be a very, merry evening.

Light up the Beach goes from 5pm to 8pm on Dec 2nd in the Rainier Beach neighborhood.

 Featured image courtesy of Rainier Beach Merchants Association