Tag Archives: family traditions

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.

A break from tradition: The benefits of an artificial Christmas tree

Growing up we always had a real Christmas tree. Some years it was small, sparse and Charlie Brown-ish. Other years it stood tall and full, reaching toward the vaulted pine ceiling inside my childhood home. One year my parents brought home a “tumbleweed” tree they had bid on at a holiday charity fundraiser. Basically, it was a huge tumbleweed spray-painted white and decorated with silver balls and red bows. My sister and I hated it, but at least it was real, if a weed.

Fast forward a decade to university. I remember the first year I returned from school for Christmas to discover my parents had sold out: they’d bought an artificial tree. “You don’t have to water it,” my dad said. “It’s so easy to assemble,” my mom added. “But it’s fake,” I replied, aghast. What would they spring on me next? An inflatable lawn Santa?

They say you grow up to become your parents. If that’s the case, I have arrived; only, my sell-out date proved a good 15 years before my parents’. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but we are now the proud owners of a Holiday Home Pre-Lit Wentworth Fir Tree. Proud because we actually assembled it properly, first try. Embarrassed because it’s an artificial Christmas tree (and we have little kids, so it feels double bad, like conning them that the bearded man at the mall is really Santa). 

Our fake Christmas tree came in a box with four sections, lettered A, B, C and D. Even our six-year-old figured out which part went where.

Assemble as easy as A, B, C, D.
Hubby quickly assembled it:

As easy as fitting Legos together!

 
Then we pulled out the branches all around to make it look more real and less fake. Avery, who had wondered aloud why we were getting an artificial tree, was coming around. “I like our fake tree Mommy. Do you like it?” Hmmm. Bennett was less sure of the imposter. “I scared of tree, Mommy.” I get that, son.
 
Time to decorate. Avery hurried to add the beautiful, if slightly maimed, unicorn ornament. I worried she might end up with blisters or boils on her hands because to “shape” and decorate the tree the instructions read, “We suggest unplugging the tree and wearing protective gloves.”  

Mythical beast meets fake tree.

 
I was a skeptic this morning but have quickly warmed to the benefits of the fake tree. Low maintenance! No pine needles on the floor! The only drawback is our house doesn’t have that fragrant, fresh-from-the-woods smell. Also, the fact we have a faux Christmas tree makes me feel like a Baby Boomer. But honestly, can you tell this beauty isn’t real?
 

Is this one real or fake?

Every time I pass by the too-perfect tree I have to remember it could be worse: it could be a tumbleweed.