Ogden • On a frosty December Monday, families bundled up their children and headed to the heart of downtown Ogden to carry on one of Utah's unique holiday traditions.
Magic was in the air as hundreds of lights decorated Ogden's Municipal Park. Kids roasted hot dogs, marshmallows and chestnuts on open fires at Trudy's Popp n' Johnny Tractor Made Premium Ice Cream outdoor restaurant. Wide-eyed children waited in line for a chance to tell Santa what their Christmas dreams are.
And, on the grounds, 58 decorated little cottages, many of them celebrating scenes from Ogden, offered moving statues and nostalgic scenes of trains, log cabins, reindeer and ethnic holiday events.
"I've been coming since I was 3 or 4," said Kellen Criswell of Ogden, who was introducing the Christmas Village to his daughter Bennett. "There is just the connection here to family memories and good times. I wanted to share them with my kid."
Kathy Boardman, another Ogden resident, could relate. Her son came here for the first time as a 1-year-old and, though he now lives in Florida, he brought Boardman's grandchildren back to the place of so many good Christmas memories.
This was the vision village founders Jerry and Maxine Green had of what this joyful holiday tradition might become. The couple took their 5-year-old son Tommy to Ogden's big Christmas parade in 1961, a fun event that marked the start of the holiday season. But Jerry noticed Tommy's disappointment afterward.
That night, Green came up with the idea of creating a Christmas Village in the heart of Ogden with free admission that would include the sorts of shops that Santa might have in the North Pole. The original cost estimate was $25,000, a price too steep for Green. So he began to approach town merchants with the idea and was greeted with an enthusiastic response.
Utah Power and Light donated electricity, merchants began building cottages, and on Nov. 23, 1962, the first village opened after the traditional holiday parade. It has expanded over the years but kept the original mission of creating a fun family atmosphere in a park filled with colored lights, magical displays and, of course, Santa's castle.
Perry Huffaker, public ways and parks manager for Ogden City, estimates that the opening night, which included the Santa parade, opening of the village and fireworks, drew about 10,000 people. An estimated 9,000 to 10,000 children will wait in line to see Santa during the time from Thanksgiving to late December when he is in his house. And close to 50,000 will visit the park during the holiday season.
Putting the event together is quite an undertaking, given the fact that many of the cottages have moving parts and all have lights.
"We have a crew of four that works every night, Monday through Saturday, basically from Thanksgiving to Christmas, solving electrical problems and fixing moving parts," Huffaker said. "They are well versed. It takes a little to keep that baby running every night."
Judging from the crowds of happy families walking from cottage to cottage, sometimes stopping to buy hot chocolate from a vendor or warm themselves on a fire, the reward for the volunteers who make the venture work comes in the form of giggling children and parents taking time from their hectic holiday schedules to get a taste of the Christmas spirit.
Ogden Christmas Village
Ogden's Christmas Village, 353 E. 25th St., at the park surrounding the Municipal Building, runs nightly through Jan. 1.Lights are on from 5 p.m. until midnight.