Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bad Santa: Where's Your Village Now?

At this time of year I am really pressing my luck by bad-mouthing Santa Claus, but I figure that I have been so bad all year that one more transgression won't mean the difference between naughty and nice.  Really, what is he going to do, make the coal in my stocking more black than usual?  Will I get less coal or more?  I can't decide which is the greater punishment.

I have been getting better at keeping my camera poised and at the ready for any sighting of wacky tacky that could become potential blog fodder.  So it was on a recent trip to the mountains for my sister-in-law's (sister's-in-law?) birthday.  We bundled up heavily for a bone-chilling, fifty-degree, winter walk.  My heart skipped a beat (I did forget to take my medication) when we came across Santa in his Santa-mobile.  I knew by the frigid clime that we were near the Arctic Circle but until that moment I had no reason to believe that we had stumbled upon the North Pole.  I tried to steady my nerves and my hands so I could quickly capture a picture of the one and only Santa Claus.  Who was going to believe that when the sleigh was in the shop, he opted for a wacky tacky town car?  I needed proof!

It is at this point in our little holiday story that things turned ugly. Apparently, Santa has a pay-for-play contract with the world at large and taking his picture will cost you.  As I snapped the photo the curmudgeonly, old elf slammed on his brakes and yelled, "You owe me five dollars!"  Just in case English was my second language or in the event that I was hearing impaired, "Santa" (given the situation and time for further reflection, I'm in no way sure that this man actually was Santa) continued to elevate his tone and extend his gloved hand and count his sausage-like fingers.  Needless to say, I was a little taken aback.  He came to a dead stop and yelled, "Any picture of me is five dollars!"  I am more than willing to own up to my awkward and often-impolite social interaction but I was completely unaware that I had breached some social contract.  To be fair, apparently he was there posing for photos for a profit but it wasn't until I uploaded the photo that I noticed the sign on the tree that stated "Pictures with Santa only $5."  To be even more fair, we weren't really taking a picture with Santa as much as we were taking a picture of Santa driving away.

I put away my camera and tried my best to ignore the angry shouts of this so-called Santa.  We made our way down the street all the while window shopping but Santa wasn't going to let this one go.  He followed us with brilliant jeers like, "What are you, tourists?" and witty rejoinders like, "Are you from Mars?"  I have been known to have a temper, but I resisted the impulse to join in his uncouth and, dare I say, "grinchy" display.  We were in a strange place and what had I to gain by bashing Santa - verbally or otherwise?  If things escalated, who would people be more likely to support?  My suspicion was that of the two of us, I was going to come out looking like the bad guy.  The pinnacle of this heart-warming encounter came when we were kindly greeted by a local shop owner and "Santa" issued a bellowing warning that we were "thieves" and "shoplifters."  Eventually, and after a backfire-laden stall-out of his broken-down jalopy, Santa realized that his jolliness would not be met with remuneration and he retreated to whatever bridge he crawled out from under.

My perception of Santa has been forever colored.

We continued to explore our local mountain region, but the horror of being name-called in public by Santa Claus left a knot in my stomach.  Given that it might have been the real Santa, I tried my darnedest to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe Mrs. Santa had taken to the bottle again; those long arctic winters can be brutal and lonely.  Maybe the elves were unionizing.  Maybe Rudolph had "left on the red light" and was bringing shame to the herd.  As we drove along, I was desperate to excuse his foul temper.  Then as we rounded a mountain bend, we saw the reason for Santa's ugly, and very un-Christmaslike behavior.  What was once a glorious town full of gingerbread and holiday cheer was now a sprawling dump heap of machinery and lumber.  The lights had been turned off at Santa's Village!

Don't let the giant, striped cane fool you; there is no more candy.

A vintage view of Santa's Village

From time immemorial (1959), Santa's Village had been an alpine respite from the heat and bustle of San Bernardino, CA.  It was a winter wonderland of magical rides and holiday delights.  But I would not know because I have never been there.  It was just a small theme park but the commercials played during Saturday morning cartoons made it seem like the only place on earth that I needed to be.

One day when I was about eight years old, Heaven smiled upon me and my grandparents bundled us up and headed off to Santa's Village.  We were about three-quarters of the way up the mountain when green smoke started billowing from underneath the hood of their Buick - so ended our trip to Santa's Village.  I am still unsure as to the actual reason we never visited Santa's Village that day.  We all have pretty clear memories of seeing the park and even eating at a coffee shop across the street.  We spent the better part of the day at the top of the mountain waiting for the car to get fixed.  I think my grandma was just so mad at my grandpa for letting something go wrong with the car that she decided nobody was going to have fun that day.  Now I have been to the grounds, but I'll never know the joys of that funny, little park.

The original buildings are there but Santa is nowhere to be found.

The iconic bumble bee monorail is still there but there are no riders.

It appears as if Santa's Village is just going to be reclaimed by the earth. 

After seeing the ruins of Santa's Village, it would be hard to blame Santa for playing Scrooge so close to Christmas, but I can still do it.   Most people probably would have forked over the five bucks but I think that would have gone against the very laws of nature - Santa's supposed to bring me presents, right?  I guess the economy has even taken a grip of Old St. Nick!  Anyhow, for some great historic snapshots of Santa's Village in its heyday, be sure to visit tiki ranch blog.  Also, there is a great Santa's Village - Skyforest Facebook page - like it!


Mr. Tiny


  1. Bwuahahaha! And you get revenge by blogging about Nasty Claws! ;)
    I totally remember Santa's Village! We went there when I was probably around the same age as you. Even as a kid I thought it was sad. Mostly every ride was broken down. I wish I could have noticed the glory of "Wacky Tacky" when I was younger- I probably would have enjoyed it more ;)

  2. Okay. I have a confession. We broke into Santa's Village LAST WEEK! "Beware of Dog"? There is no dog. Hopped the fence and snuck around for about an hour. We even went into the Alice maze. Dark and horrible. Amazing how much of it is intact, but sad to think it'll never come back, without a miracle.

  3. Kevin, you guys are way cooler than we are. We pulled into the lot and asked if we could take pictures. We were told "No" in English and Spanish. Later, we pulled over to the side of the road and Mary & Erika hopped over the fence to snap a few photos but we were too afraid of "the dog." I hope you guys got some good pictures!!!

  4. Lauren, I'm glad that you were able to get there at least once. It sounds like Santa probably would have been in a much better mood back then!!!

  5. Terrific post. You may want to also pop over to the Meet the World blog by Tokyo Magic: http://meettheworldinprogressland.blogspot.com/

    He just recently completed a very fine series on the "then-and-now" Santa's Village. Lots of great pics.

  6. Thanks for the link ASWS! Those pictures are amazing! Although, I'm still trying to figure out why the elf is sitting ON the North Pole???!!!! Hahaha.

  7. Does anyone know how to creat those Giant Concrete Mushrooms at Santa's Vilage?
    E-Mail me

    Jerry Ballard jerryballardusnret@hotmail.com