In order to NOT take our kids to a mall Santa and spend $20 for a picture, we've been trying to find him amongst our other holiday activities. For instance, he was going to be at Molly's mom's group cookie exchange. But then Ellie started acting funky and had a runny nose so Molly opted out.
And then there was the holiday breakfast with Santa which sounded good. At least we'd get some breakfast out of the deal. But we just couldn't commit to getting up and in gear that early on a Saturday.
Our most recent attempt was Santa's Holiday Forest: A Christmas tree farm (and perhaps even a peanut farm) north of Valparaiso, IN. I don't want to give them a bad name exactly because the jolly guy with the long white beard that helped us with our tree was was very nice. But he certainly wasn't Santa. The camo pants and zippo lighter gave him away.
The Holiday Forest has a decent (albeit 1998-style) website which built up our confidence level in the establishment much more then it deserved. It almost seemed to good to be true. While they didn't commit to anything on the site, they seemed to suggest that Santa may be there every day as well as some sort of holiday train for the kids to ride. Their website includes the line: "Puzzles, Games, Gifts For All, Peanuts, Cappuccino"
It was all too perfect. "Lots of Fun for Everyone!" They even have a drawing for a free 7-day Caribbean Cruse for two! Maybe I was reading too much into the little picture of a train full of Loony Toons characters when I decided we should go. But what could go wrong, really. We had a $5 off coupon! The only problem was deciding where we should use it: On the tree, or perhaps the photo with Santa, or even the kiddy train.
Turned out the $5 coupon wasn't really going to be a problem.
As we drove down the street towards Santa's Holiday Forest I notice that Santa must prefer to live amongst the houses of Valparaiso. I expected some lit signs. Maybe a forest rising out of a corn field like Field of Dreams or something. Instead there were just some flags 20 feet in front of the driveway and a few signs reading:
"X-Mas Tree Farm"
"X-Mas Tree Farm for Sale!"
When we parked, there was a little bit of a let down. It looked...not so merry. I was still hopeful however. At least we'll be able to see Santa.
The first half of the lot were the pre-cut trees. The back was the "forest" where you could cut down your own. We trudged out into the "forest" to find the Griswold Family Christmas Tree but it turned out the "forest" was closer to an overgrown prairie with some evergreen trees and REALLY sharp sticks sticking out of the ground just waiting to claim the next "Holiday Forest Victim." There was also the occasional odd hole in the ground which you could fall into. It took us about 10 minutes to go out 50 feet, decide the whole thing was stupid, and then come back.
When we got back to the pre-cut trees, we stumbled onto "Santa." When we had initially arrived I noticed a big pile of hay bales which I thought was odd but I glossed over it in my disappointment. They seemed to be right where they belonged; A big, depressing, slightly smelly, pile of hay to complete the whole picture. But wait, the pile was hollow. And what was inside this rotting cave of hay? A statue of the jolly old guy himself, along with a wet wooden chair with some musty fabric on it. I was surprised at the smile and wave Santa was displaying. If I was him I would have burned my hay-cave to the ground long ago. Maybe the hay was too wet. Or maybe that other guy stole his zippo.
At this point I proposed leaving but Molly said we might as well get a tree. She was right, of course, but I just wanted to leave and go to the place we went to last year and pretend the Holiday Forest never happened.
After looking at all the pre-cut trees we settled on one. It was the only choice, really. No... I mean it. It was the ONLY choice. All the other ones were too big or misshapen.
The jolly guy with the long beard shook the needles out of it and gave it a fresh cut. He then took my coupon and $35 which WAS a good deal. He then put it on the roof of our car while complaining about the lack of something to tie the twine onto. Apparently he wanted something more than the luggage rack but I'm not sure what exactly. Maybe he was hoping for an array of bungee cables and duct tape.
He also asked if we wanted to enter into the Caribbean cruise. So I did, after he warmed up the pen with the zippo so it would write better.
As we were getting into the car he disbursed with the parting gifts. I'm not sure why exactly but I'm guessing the Holiday Forest has gotten into the habit of assuaging disappointment:
A candy cane for Ellie, a Santa's Holiday Forest notepad, and a Ziploc bag of peanuts. At this point I was so bewildered I just took everything, thanked him, and got in the car and we left.
Candy Cane: Ok. That makes sense.
Notepad: Huh? Is it made from Christmas trees? It doesn't smell like it. At least spray a little evergreen smell on there and tell me it is.
Peanuts: What??? I don't get it. Is the other half of Santa's Holiday Forest Mr. Peanut's legume land? Or did the owner win a lifetime supply of peanuts he can't get rid of? Or maybe Kevin Costner dropped them off on his way to the Field of Dreams.
At this point we just need to bite the bullet and take the kids to see Santa. I think Molly found the best spot just 15 minutes away. At least there is something in it for us:www.achristmasstorycomeshome.com