Once Upon a Christmas at Heritage Park

Yesterday the temperature in Calgary climbed to a balmy 11C. Since we had free tickets to Once Upon a Christmas at Heritage Park, we headed there along with every other family in the city. Heritage Park is a replica of an “Olden Days” town, where all the workers dress like Little House on the Prairie. Other attractions include a train, a paddle-wheeler boat, farm animals, historic homes, a Main Street, and an amusement park area with old-time rides like a ferris wheel.

See the shadows? That's half of Calgary waiting in line.

 The park closes for the winter but re-opens the month before the holidays for Once Upon a Christmas. The event attempts to re-create Christmases of yore: no rides, no train, no boat, no toys, but a huge line-up to get inside the bakery for a gingerbread man cookie. That is to say, none of the fun summer stuff is going on, but they bring in Santa, some reindeer and a couple of Belgian horses to pull the wagon.

We knew we were in trouble when the parking lot was completely full upon arrival. “I didn’t realize everyone in Calgary knew about this,” my husband remarked. “I’m glad we have free tickets,” I said.  This meant we could skip the 45-minute line-up to buy tickets to get inside (those suckers didn’t know what awaited them: more line-ups!). The whole event had a sort of Soviet Union-era feel about it: large crowds of people milling around and standing in long lines for something (a loaf of bread? a pair of shoes?).

Once through the gates we immediately ran into some friends we never see — further proof that everyone in the city was at Heritage Park for Once Upon a Christmas. We trekked through the countryside down to the town (with the train not running it’s a good 20-minute walk with little kids), over to the red barn for our first line-up: to see Santa.

The only time in life when children don't have to heed the "Don't Sit on Strange Men's Laps or Take Candy Canes from Strangers" Rule.

 The line moved quickly and the kids were rewarded with candy canes. “This isn’t so bad!” I thought. So we walked over to the corral to see the reindeer. Now, reindeer are definitely more of a novelty than Santa (you never see them at the mall), so this line-up was really long. We decided to skip it and simply view the small ungulates through the wooden fence as opposed to waiting in line to pet them. This was not acceptable to Bennett, who started crying and sat down in the snow. I looked around, embarrassed, and pretended he wasn’t my son. Thankfully, Avery didn’t mind Plan B.

Avery liked watching the reindeer but wondered, "Where's Rudolph?"

Bennett then started going on about wanting to go home, but damned if we were leaving without standing in one final line-up. After a hasty snack of leftover bread crusts on an old-time porch, we made our way over to the town square, where the horse-drawn wagon ride line-up snaked through the square all the way to the amusement park. You’d think people had never ridden in a wagon before, the way they lined up for 45 minutes for a 10-minute ride around a village they’d already walked around. But with kids in tow, you do all manner of painful waiting for small pleasures. And it was worth it — just look how excited we all are.

The best 10-minute wagon ride ever!

I almost wish we’d waited in the bakery line-up for those cookies. Almost.

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