While Salt Lake City's Temple Square boasts 300,000-plus Christmas lights amidst a special religious setting, Ogden, 35 miles to the north, traditionally creates a magical land called "Christmas Village."
The displays, lights and moving figures span a city block in the heart of the city. Surrounding the Ogden Municipal Building on Washington Boulevard between 25th and 26th Streets, this Christmas fantasy, sometimes called "Santa's Village," has been conjured for past 26 years.Jerry Green, Ogden Chamber of Commerce chairman at the time, started Christmas Village in 1962 as a small exhibit. The project mushroomed to city-block size in just a few years. Green's wife, Maxine, was also instrumental in the village's early development.
Today Christmas Village is handled by an 18-member special committee. About half the members are community volunteers, while the rest are city and county staff members. The committee's chairman is volunteer Debbie Williams of Ogden.
Work on the village is almost a year-round project, and this year's village is the result of many meetings and a lot of work. In fact, the committee held its first meeting for the 1988 village last January.
Christy Young, Ogden City's secretary for community services and a committee member, said future plans for the village include the possibility of adding something new each year to keep it fresh. This year's village has more lights than ever, and several new ground displays have also been added, she said.
The Ogden City Parks Division put up the lights and displays, but overall, Ogden City and Weber County have a 50-50 share in the village's operation. The four other major sponsors of this year's Christmas Village are the Bank of Utah, the Ogden Hilton, Morton Thiokol and the Howard H. & Evelyn Larson Foundation. Seven area banks and 17 other businesses also contributed to the project.
The village is a popular seasonal attraction, maybe the No. 1 Ogden area visitor spot, since the Utah Travel Council estimates the annual attendance at more than 200,000 persons.
A visit to Christmas Village is a perfect family outing. The moving figures, such as elves, children and others inside the dozen display buildings, recreate the fun of toys and gifts on Christmas morning. Christmas music fills the block.
The village hasn't changed drastically over the years. Each new visit can rekindle childhood memories, or at least let you feel the Christmas magic that comes only when you see the sparkle in the eyes of enthralled youngsters.
Santa Claus is available in his "castle" at the heart of the village nightly from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. (for children age 12 and under) through Dec. 23.
For the past several years many of the display houses have been put together by Ogden area businesses. For example, local floral shops made four of this year's displays. Still others were created by Ogden City, Weber County or community volunteers.
These display houses have various Christmas themes, such as elves making toys or kids opening presents on Christmas morning, or offer church choirs singing Christmas songs. One exhibit even has a "Young Brides" theme.
Children can also find swings, slippery slides and other playground equipment at the west end of the village. A "Christmas Train" and periodic puppet shows are other highlights in the village.
There's a strong religious side to the village, too, with a nativity display on the east section of the block. While the west section of Christmas Village is filled with display houses, the eastern side has more of a religious atmosphere and, besides the manger scene, includes lots of lights, snowmen and sparkle.
Parking at Christmas Village is generally problem free and is usually available right on the block itself. The easiest parking is probably found on the side street to the north that cuts the village in half and is located behind the Municipal Building. City street parking is free in Ogden.
Utah Transit Authority bus service is available at the corner of 25th Street and Washington Boulevard. Public rest rooms for Christmas visitors are available inside the Municipal Building each night.
The lights are shut off nightly about 11 p.m., but the displays operate during the daylight hours and so daytime visits - though not as dramatic - are possible.