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Christmas Village lights up Ogden for holiday

Published: Saturday, Nov. 28 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Erin Daniels, a volunteer with the Ogden Nature Center, hangs ornaments to decorate the Nature Center's display.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

OGDEN — Now that Utahns have safely digested their turkey and arisen from their food- and Black Friday-induced slumbers, it seems that all that's left is to get started on Christmas.

Sure, Christmas songs are on the radio, trees and tinsel are in stores, and Christmas lights have been up since before the snow came.

But to some, the Christmas season doesn't truly start until the lights go on at Ogden's Christmas Village, a collection of 59 sometimes-whimsical, sometimes-historical cottages.

The smaller-than-human-scale cottages have been installed in Ogden's Municipal Gardens, creating a miniature village where elves, snowmen and Santa are in a perpetual state of getting ready for Dec. 25.

Since 1962, people have made Christmas Village a tradition, and new families join the tradition every year — not only for the cottages, but also for children to get a chance to meet Santa in the one human-sized cottage near the gardens' entrance on 25th Street.

Before parents and children can wander the village, bundled against the cold, the lights have to go on.

And that's what Ogden will be all about Saturday night.

A holiday parade begins at 5:30 p.m. and runs along Washington Boulevard from 20th to 26th streets.

It will be followed by Santa's ceremonial lighting of the village, which will feature more than 1 million lights and various static displays, aerial ornaments and fireworks.

That's when families can clutch their hot chocolate as they peer into cottage windows, reliving Christmases and Christmas villages past.

The past is still present at this year's village, said Jo Packham, Christmas Village Committee chairwoman.

A few of the original cottages still stand among more than 50 that have been built over the past eight years Packham has been chairwoman.

A small firehouse, a post office and a bakery shop are about all that remain from 47 years ago, when Jerry Green, a local business owner and chairman of the Ogden Chamber of Commerce, began the village as a kind of Santa's village.

Green, 81, now lives in California, but most recently made the trip to Ogden's Christmas Village when he was named its honorary mayor for its 40th anniversary in 2002.

Green and his wife, Maxine, say they're honored Christmas Village continues to be a tradition and that it has grown so much.

"I'm just flabbergasted as can be," Jerry Green said Wednesday. "I had no idea it would last this long or be this important."

Packham said an estimated 150,000 people visit the village every year, and Ogden's celebration rivals Salt Lake's Temple Square for the largest Christmas celebration in Utah.

Now, besides Santa's Castle, his post office and toy shop, replicas of historic Ogden buildings — City Hall, the Ben Lomond Hotel, Peery's Egyptian Theater and Union Station — and a small ski village are among the 59 cottages.

It's gratifying to Packham, who has seen the village grow from four forlorn cottages into a breathtaking display.

"It's very magical," she said.

That's coming from someone who nearly resigned when she learned the scope of what she was undertaking when she was appointed by Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey.

But with her 31 employees and help from at-risk youth in Ogden, the first cottages were built, decorated and painted.

Since that time, local corporations have begun sponsoring cottages so that other familiar Ogden buildings help set the scene.

This year, aerial ornaments have been added to the decorations, says Jay Lowder, manager of Ogden's public ways and parks department. And larger Christmas lights have been converted to LEDs to produce energy savings.

"Christmas Village is going green," Lowder said.

And if the past is an indication, Christmas Village will be going for a long time.

If you go:

What: Ogden's Christmas Parade followed by Christmas Village lighting

When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Ogden Municipal Gardens, 343 25th St.

Admission: FreeChristmas Village schedule

Christmas Village will be open through New Year's Day.

Santa will be greeting children in his castle from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 5 to 9 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 23.

Live entertainment in the amphitheater from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

Dec. 5 events: "Christmas Story" at 1 p.m.; scavenger hunt at 3 p.m.; karaoke at 4 p.m.; Josh Evertsen concert at 7 p.m.

e-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com

TWITTER: desnewsdavis

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