Already known as one of the busiest First Fridays of the year, this December event further embraces a community spirit by recognizing our veterans and active military. With a remembrance lighting and themed art show among Friday's activities, there are plenty of reasons to head downtown.

Dec. 7 marks the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Events earlier in the day -- at Union Cemetery, the downtown Veterans Memorial Site and Minter Air Field Museum -- will be capped off by a remembrance ceremony at 5 p.m., including the lighting of trees outside of City Hall and the county courthouse. Also honoring those who served is a special ceremony honoring Joe Licastro, who, at 92, is Kern's oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor.

An artistic salute to military members and their families is at the heart of Christine McKee's show opening at Metro Galleries. "On the Homefront: Military Families" is a collection of 17 works, including a special tribute to her father, William McKee, who passed away three years ago.

"Because it's the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I did one honoring soldiers in World War II. It's a print of my dad. I used a photograph of him when he was in the Navy in World War II."

Much of the exhibit focuses on how much military families sacrifice while supporting loved ones serving far from home. McKee saw the difficulties firsthand with her daughter, who has been married to a Marine for three years.

"It was so close to me, opposed to reading about it. Her husband is deployed frequently. They've moved three times in the last three years.

"I talked to some of her friends who are also military spouses. I found they're really, really strong people and I think they have to be to deal with this on a daily basis."

McKee said her painting "The Entire Family Serves" best reflects the show's theme. The work depicts a number of figures, soldiers as well as family members.

"It's not just the person that is in the military. It is also their family that is having to deal with it. People normally look at the soldier, but it is the whole family."

The struggles of returning soldiers and veterans -- including post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, depression and feelings of isolation -- are also addressed in the show.

Depicting social issues in art is something McKee said she is drawn to, after taking part in the inaugural Creating Community project. The Arts Council of Kern project, developed by Nicole Saint-John, aims to bring awareness to social topics, such as water rights, literacy and substance abuse, through art.

"When we had the shows, people that came we would talk to them about the painting. I feel the people were learning instead of just looking at a painting. We got some discussions going. It's really what made the work worthwhile. That's why I wanted to continue with it."

In support of those reflected in the show, 20 percent of opening night sales will benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Kern County's Front Line effort. Front Line offers outreach to local veterans and their families in various areas, including housing, health services, and educational training as well as hosting weekly support groups.

Guests can also show support for our armed forces at a postcard-writing station at the gallery. Messages will be collected and sent to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

"I'm really excited that we can do something positive with the show," McKee said.

'Donuts -- Why theFat Lady Sings'

Speaking of happy thoughts, a colorful show also opens Friday at the Bakersfield Art Association's Art Center. Artist Nicole Saint-John takes on some of life's mysteries with "Donuts -- Why the Fat Lady Sings."

"This show is about life," Saint-John wrote in an email. "Life is a mix of profound questions and silly human behaviors, so I make some of my art that way. It is up to the viewer to find both the profoundness and silliness of life in the artwork."

Her favorite piece of the eight-work show is of the titular songstress.

"It's a part of our culture for people to say: 'It ain't over till the fat lady sings.' I assume that the opera is being used as a metaphor for life, or a baseball game, or whatever's going on in a person's life that hasn't yet reached its outcome.

"The painting presents questions and answers. What is the drama in your life all about at this moment? Is it profound or silly? Is the fat lady about to sing in your life? Are you enjoying the moment?"

Saint-John said she loves humor in her life and artwork, although she also takes her work seriously as well as her commitment to helping others. A portion of proceeds from the show will be given to Covenant Community Services.

"My personal mission is to raise the quality of life for people in my community through my work and art and by supporting others who share the same vision. Covenant Community Services is a local nonprofit that provides hope and love and a future to foster children and emancipated youth through a number of programs. I want to support them because they raise the quality of life of kids who have been neglected by others in their lives."

Covenant Coffee will be served at the opening reception as will doughnuts.

Also on the BAA's lineup, a show opening at Dagny's Coffee Co. will spotlight the work of Elleta Abuliel and Stella Mullins. A painter for most of her adult life, Abuliel will display works reflecting her love of different styles, from oils and pastels to silk paintings. Mullins, who began drawing as a child and favors portrait work, will feature her latest experiments in silk paintings.

'Whimsy and Wanting'

Another artist who has started developing his craft at a young age, Rusty Hatfield's show, "Whimsy and Wanting," at The Foundry. Hatfield said he enjoys working in a variety of mediums, including photography, illustration, performance poetry, watercolors and digital art.

"I don't stick to one medium. I'm freeform. If I have something to make a mark and something to make a mark on, I will compulsively draw on it."

Hatfield, who is a designer for House of Stone, channeled his artistic passion to keep him focused this year as he prepared for his first solo show.

"It's been kind of a journey. It's not been an easy year for me. I'm proud of the fact that I managed to pull it all together. ... This show is a big step for me, and I don't want to lose the momentum."

Hatfield describes each piece in his collection of eight watercolors and two acrylics as a meditative exercise.

"A lot of them are centered around the female form or the whimsical. My art has always been a little bit about escapism, about wanting other things and other places. Each time that I set down to paint, I am transported away from anything that is bothering me."

After spending his formative years in town, Hatfield's family pulled up stakes and went on the move.

"Dad had a wanderlust. We moved around quite a bit. Rural areas or campgrounds, moving around all the time."

Moving back as an adult "felt like coming back home," the 33-year-old said. Currently commuting from Wofford Heights, the artist said he's looking to move back to Bakersfield.

"I'd like to be closer to the nerve center of what I'm working on here. ... Bakersfield has come a long way in the past few years. First Friday has become a great thing. It's good because I get to be in at the ground level on that."