Families in search of a new Christmas tradition will be able to find it at the Clay County fairgrounds this December.
Among the many facets expected to take center stage at the fairgrounds next month are a live nativity scene, Santa and Mrs. Claus, sleigh rides and several new lighting displays.
"Our goal is to have a truly unique Christmas experience out here," explained Phil Hurst, fair manager.
The soon-to-be unveiled holiday attraction will be open to the public on the weekends of December 8 - 9, 15 - 16, and 22 - 23. While tentative plans are to remain open from 5 until 9 p.m., each of those evenings, Hurst said hours may be extended if the event proves successful.
An intriguing lighting display will await visitors who enter the main gate of the fairgrounds. Soldiers will greet families at the main gate, which will be lit to resemble a castle.
Once on the fairgrounds, families will have the chance to participate in several activities in the KICD building, view lit tractors on the fairgrounds and observe a live nativity scene in the stable.
The building hosting the Smoky Mountain Central Railroad will be lit on the outside with a new train designed from Christmas lights. Inside, Hurst said Kay Payne's extensive Santa Claus doll collection, Lori Taylor's nutcracker collection and a large teddy bear collection will be displayed.
In addition, animated elves will be preparing for Christmas and working on train cars inside the enclosed glass area housing the train.
"We're also changing the train and we're building a whole new winter scene," added Hurst.
He explained volunteers Jim Bonnstetter, Connie Purchase, Steve Zimmerman, Jim Morony and Dave Gustin have spent many hours winterizing the railroad and building a new city since the Clay County Fair concluded in mid-September.
Children will also have plenty of appealing attractions to keep them fascinated in the depot building.
Besides having the opportunity to make a gift bag and personalized elf and snowman ornaments for a nominal fee, Santa Claus will appear in a special railroad depot constructed by fairgrounds maintenance crew members Vern Pepper, Jerry Crabtree and Jim Cox. Kids will have the chance to perch on Santa's lap and have their picture taken, also for a small charge.
Mrs. Claus will be making homemade cookies each weekend. In addition to the fresh cookies, hot chocolate and cider will be available to satisfy family members taste buds.
A life-sized horse and sleigh will be on display in the depot building.
Just added different artists will be featured in the building each weekend.
Kay Kracht of Kay's Kakes is slated to decorate cookies and cakes on December 8 and 9. She will have special cookies available for sale.
Del's Garden Center will be stationed in the northwest corner of the building. Staff is expected to highlight different holiday decorating ideas.
"It's our hope at least one weekend, probably the last weekend, we're looking at having sleigh rides," added Hurst. "So you can either (go) on a horse drawn sleigh or a wagon (depending on the snowfall) and have a ride from this building up to the live nativity scene."
The nativity scene, which will be featured on December 22 and 23, will be located in the stable on the fairgrounds.
Hurst explained planning an preparations for the new Christmas time experience began over a year ago when fair board members traveled to Des Moines for an annual meeting and toured the well-known Make-A-Wish Foundation lighting display at Des Moines Water Works' park.
"The executive board has told me to make sure that we do it in such a way that it reflects the values of the Clay County Fair and gives people the same positive experience that they have at the fair," added Hurst. "Our real goal is this, just as we are a destination for people in September, we also want to be a destination at Christmas time."
He added to hope is for this holiday time attraction to grow each year.
"We want to do everything possible to wet the appetite for what is to come," said Hurst. "In the first three years we'll have a need for the greatest growth each year."
While there will be no cover charge to enter the fairgrounds for this holiday attraction, the fair manager said donations will be accepted to cover the costs incurred with its implementation.
Groups interested in volunteering or possibly completing a service project are encouraged to call the fair office at 262-4740.