Merry Labor Day this Halloween Season: Santa’s Village

September 1, 2018 — It’s still technically summer, definitely Labor Day weekend, and my household has started pulling out the Halloween decorations, so I took my kids to a Christmas-themed amusement park today. I’m just really confused right now…and looking forward to that future in which life is one long mishmash of holidays. You know, after robots and universal basic income have both been adopted in our society.

I’ve never been to Santa’s Village in Jefferson, New Hampshire, before. Despite living in and exploring this state for over a decade. The reason’s simple. I don’t think about Christmas during the summer. Not even in July when Hallmark Channel movie marathons say that I should. And then come Christmastime, it’s too cold here in New Hamster to be goin’ to no theme park. This ain’t Orlando.

But a rare conglomeration of events conspired to find me sitting on a one horse open sleigh-shaped monorail coach above a gingerbread house, life-sized nativity scene, and a giant snowman. The events aren’t important. Santa’s Village is what’s important.

This place is pretty awesome. I was expecting it to be...not pretty awesome. Whatever the opposite of pretty awesome is, in fact. Which according to is “ugly unimpressive.”

See, I expected this place to be one of those broken-down kids parks that have limped along for decades because parents are looking for anything, anything, anything to keep the whole family amused just one more day. I was also expecting the Christmas theme to be perfunctory. I was completely wrong on both accounts.

First, well, it is a kids park that has been around since 1953. But for that entire time, it’s been managed by the same family. Everything here seems well-cared for, invested in, and thought out. For instance, my four-year-old could ride every ride, as long as I was with her, and some of those rides made me uneasy. That’s craft, man.

Also, and I think this singlehandedly proves my point: Its trashcans are all fiberglass penguins in top hats. You lift the hat, you de-trashify yourself. That’s Nobel-worthy. Right up there with robots and universal basic income.

But the best thing about this place is that every inch of it is Christmas-themed. Carols and songs are piped throughout the park. Elf statues are everywhere. It has an entire carousel of red-nosed Rudolphs. A three-story nutcracker slide greets you. Santa’s always there in his workshop, forcing kids to be on their best behavior throughout the entire park (also Nobel-worthy). If it can be painted in the park, then it’s painted red and green. Except when it’s painted white and blue for a winter scene, allowing us to have the aforementioned penguins and the somehow-not-yet-mentioned Yeti statue above the water park area.

But my favorite thing in the entire park is the live reindeer barn. Not deer-pretending-to-be-reindeer barn. Reindeer. Giant, hairy creatures with racks so large and intricate that they should be terrifying, but which all combine into a majestic creature that seems kindly and completely up for being strapped to a fat guy and pulling several million toys through the air.

The reindeer roam through interconnected stalls with their names above them in large, carved, painted letters. That way you know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and company. And, you can get within touching distance of them. If they want you to be.

And I swear, swear, swear, I even saw them playing reindeer games, butting each other lightly with their heads down and antlers forward.

Another site in the park worth mentioning is its dark ride, the Great Humbug Adventure. It’s a shooter concept where you aim plastic guns with laser sites at “humbugs.” These are actual bugs that apparently can wreck up a holiday. Like Christmas gremlins. Except beach ball-shaped with bullseyes on their chests.

This felt—although it probably wasn’t—like a repurposed haunted house ride. Granted, it’s A Christmas Carol-themed, which is a goddamned spooky story, but still, part of me thinks I saw bats painted on the walls. But my photography skills weren’t good enough to get any evidence in the dark. Plus I was busy shooting humbugs.

What really makes Santa’s Village work in addition to the obvious dedication to its theme and purpose, is that I didn’t spot a single piece of Christmas intellectual property around. As much as I love the conglomerate-owned characters of our Christmas specials, the Grinch and the Miser Brothers and Chevy Chase in a Blackhawks jersey, it felt more genuine, or at least a rarer pleasure, to be surrounded by a less licensed Christmas.

Of course, since this weekend is the kickoff to both the OTIS Halloween Season here on the site and my own private Halloween Season, I wore a jack-o-lantern T-shirt and pretended that I was Jack Skellington in the What’s This? scene in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

And, honestly? My own personal wonder wasn’t too far off from Jack’s revelation.

"Santa works here in the summer," I told my eight-year-old.
"His name tag says Jay," she replied.

The holidaylopolis I predicting at the beginning of the article.