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  • Courtesy photo

    Families ride the Peppermint Twist as Santa's Village.
  • Courtesy photo

    Mt. View Grand, near Santa's Village.
  • Courtesy photo

    A family rides the Skyway Sleigh at Santa's Village.
Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wonders of the season abound at Santa’s Village in Jefferson

I find myself skipping along Ho Ho Ho Lane as I follow a jolly-looking fellow in bright red faux fur and Sorel snow boots.

He has a flyaway beard and wears black wire glasses. He heads past the Jingle Bell Theater, where electronic elves sing Elvis carols, and he takes a hard left past the Snowball Mall. He doesn’t even glance at the Reindeer Carousel or the Nutcracker Sweets, because he’s heading for a cabin in the woods.

Children see him and scream. Some run at him and hug him. Parents pull out cameras and cell phones and take flash photography of the man.

When he turns, it’s him. The Big Guy. Santa Claus. And he’s in Jefferson, ready for your wishes at Santa’s Village.

Normand and Cecile Dubois opened this “little park for the kids” in 1953, offering pony rides and a Mule Show featuring Francis the Famous Mule. In order to get Francis the Mule, to move, they often had to coax her to drink some oats from a whiskey bottle.

That first year, they “found” Santa a home in Jefferson, and Santa brought some real reindeer and many elves and helpers. Soon, there was a Santa Schoolhouse, a Blacksmith Shop, Santa’s Workshop and a chapel.

I have to visit Santa. Plus, I’ve traveled with small children, and to them, he’s the Big Deal.

The excitement hovers in the air, along with some piped-in carols featuring the diversity of singers such as Donny Osmond, the Chipmunks, David Bowie, Bing Crosby, Celine Dion and Frank Sinatra. I’m partial to the high ring tones of Celine Dion singing “Oh Holy Night” and find myself screeching along to her voice as the line lengthens and the children run in circles screaming with exhilaration.

Keeping the “family fun” theme, new generations of Dubois family members expanded the park to include a dancing chicken and rabbit show. “Metal rides” were soon added, and by 1969, the park had food shops and playgrounds, as well as a Jingle Jamboree theater. “Good Luck” rings made out of pounded nails were handed out for free at the Blacksmith Shop.

When we finally get on Santa’s porch, the excitement turns to awe. Children stare slack-jawed through the steamed windows as Mrs. Claus pours hot cider into tiny cups. She has bright pink cheeks and spun white hair and is dressed, of course, in red.

Two children sit on Santa’s lap, both looking rather confused. They have cookies in their hands as an Elf takes their souvenir photo. The Elf waves a penguin stuffed animal at them, and this finally makes them smile. Their parents look relieved.

By the 1980s, the park had grown to a “real” amusement park. A Yule Log Flume that transported families in logs around a holiday-themed river was added. Trained macaws roller-skated across a stage and rode bikes on a tightrope. Local “helpers” for Santa were hired to keep the park clean and bring “joy” to the bundles of families heading north for Santa-time.

It’s our turn to line up for Santa. We’re in the house. We have a cup of hot cider and a cookie in hand. “Here Comes Santa Claus” plays softly in the background, and I’ve been told not to sing or whistle or do anything that might detract from the moment.

Lists of wishes come out of back pockets and jackets as Santa smiles at us. No one moves.

“Go ahead, honey,” Mrs. Claus says. “He’s waiting just for you.”

Santa waves his white-gloved hands and we inch slowly toward him.

The Dubois grandchildren still run the park. In the mid-1990s, they decided to open the park during the holidays: from late November through New Year’s Eve. Skyway Sleighs were added that whisk families above the treetops, and a Polar Theater offers 3D Elf shows every half hour. Dancing elves on a stage and a Talking Tree that sings are some of the highlights.

We leave Santa’s cabin with a candy cane and a promise. He’ll fly over our house in a couple of weeks and visit us “if we are good.” We agree to leave him cookies and milk.

“Now, go check on my reindeer,” Santa whispers.

And out into the night we go, to the barn where the magic flying reindeer live.

That night, with visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads, we make the short drive to Whitefield. The Mountain View Grand Resort is lit up like a yellow jewel, and inside, a roaring fire burns in a fireplace.

Families dressed in pajamas gather in the lobby. Grandparents take photos of new grandchildren while mothers and fathers sprawl on couches. Everyone looks dazed and ready for bed, especially the kids.

Outside, the wind picks up and fat snowflakes begin to fall on the mountains surrounding the inn. We’re in the North Pole, it seems, and Santa is coming soon.