Last year during the coronavirus pandemic I visited Santa’s Land Fun Park & Zoo in Cherokee, North Carolina. While there I visited Santa himself, who has been played at the park for years by Clayton Smith, pictured below. The park wasn’t busy, so we had some time to talk. In particular, we talked about theming the park to Santa Claus. Since no one owns the intellectual property, it’s a very popular idea.
Later I discovered that over the years Santa’s Land is just one of at least 15 similarly themed parks to have opened around the world. Of the 15, nine are operating today, three were abandoned and then reopened and are again operating, and three were abandoned. The first to open was Santa Claus Town including Santa’s Candy Castle in 1935 in Santa Claus, Indiana. The castle remains standing but is closed. In 1937 a roadside attraction, Santa Claus Town, opened in Santa Claus, Arizona, but has long since been abandoned. Perhaps the most successful park, Santa Claus Land, opened in 1946 in Santa Claus, Indiana. Renamed in 1984 as Holiday World, it operates today as the popular Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari.
In 1949 Santa’s Workshop opened in Wilmington, New York, where it operates today. Its opening was followed by the 1953 opening of Santa’s Village, Jefferson, New Hampshire, and the 1955 debut of Santa’s Village, Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada. The same year saw the introduction of Santa’s Village, Lake Arrowhead, California. It closed in 1998, then reopened in 2016 as Skypark at Santa’s Village.
Santa’s Workshop opened in 1956 in Cascade, Colorado, where it continues to operate today. The following year Santa’s Land debuted in Putney, Vermont. It subsequently closed in 2011, reopened in 2013, closed the next year, then reopened 2017. 1958 saw the opening of Santa’s Village, Scott’s Valley, California. It lasted until 1975. Santa’s Village, East Dundee, Illinois, opened in 1959, closed in 06 reopen, then reopened in 2011 as Santa’s Village Azoosment Park.
Santa’s Land Fun Park & Zoo in Cherokee opened in 1966 and is going strong. It’s appearance was followed in 1982 by the introduction of Santa’s Enchanted Forest, Miami, Florida. Santaworld debuted in 1984 in Mora, Sweden. Perhaps the most authentically themed Santa park opened in 1985 north of the Arctic Circle as Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Finland. I say authentic because every Christmas Eve Santa Claus himself departs the park in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, to the delight of visitors. Finally, the short-lived Parque Albenoel opened and closed in 2004 in Itaguaí, Brazil.
So there you have it, 15 Santa themed parks. Many of today’s largest and most popular parks are themed to the movies, since they all own the rights to these films. To understand the theming it helps to have seen the film. But did you ever notice? Just like the Santa themed parks, when December rolls around, even the largest parks bring out their Christmas decorations, their Christmas celebrations. They don’t need a Christmas-themed movie. Everyone understands Christmas, every child loves it.