Santa’s Workshop opened in Palestine this weekend to the delight of children who enjoyed visiting the 4,500 square feet of Winter Wonderland and journeying their way to the North Pole to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus.
“It’s been an amazing experience to see this come to fruition,” said one of Santa’s Workshop organizer Laurnie Durisoe said Saturday. “To see the smile on the children’s faces — the magic it creates for them — makes it all worth it.”
The third annual Santa’s Workshop is located in the future home of the Explore! The Children’s Museum at 108 W. Oak St. in Palestine in the historic Main Street District. Last year, 2,000 children visited Santa’s Workshop.
The children’s journey begins when they arrive at the Winter Wonderland with a view of a colorful, lighted train coming out of a snow-white mountain, while having the opportunity to write a letter to Santa that they can later personally hand to Santa Claus or Mrs. Claus later on in their journey. Storytelling and live performances also are planned.
Next on their journey to see Santa and Mrs. Claus, the kids see a lollipop Christmas tree and a large sleigh before they enter what will soon become a life-sized doll house.
“It was my dream last year to make a doll house for the children to walk through,” Durisoe said. “We hope to have it ready soon.”
Inside the doll house will be 16-inch-tall dolls in five different scenes: a parlor, where the Christmas tree and a plate of gingerbread cookies will be located, and the doll, who is an artist, will be painting; in the dining room will be a punch bowl, china cabinet and gingerbread cookies; in the kitchen there will be antique stove with gingerbread cookies ready to be made in the mixing bowl, while one of the dolls will be jumping rope while waiting on the cookies; in the bedroom, a doll sits on the antique bed; and another scene dolls will be dressed up as bride and groom pretend to have a Christmas wedding in the garden.
Children can then stop at a petting zoo featuring an animated pony and two animated dogs that are voice activated.
“It’s a hands-on experience for the kids and it helps release some of their fears if they are scared at first,” Santa’s Workshop organizer Marilyn Sheridan said. “The pony neighs and whines and the animated dogs will even shake the child’s hand.”
As children continue their journey, an angel display can be viewed as they enter Candy Cane Lane.
This is the point where children get to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus.
“The child knocks on the door and Mrs. Claus or an elf comes to greet them,” Durisoe said. “Now they are at North Pole — not at a shopping mall. They get to have their own private time with their parents to see Santa and Mrs. Claus at the North Pole in their parlor in front of a cozy fireplace.”
Children can sit in Santa’s lap as the keepsake picture is taken as Santa reads a Christmas list the child has made or asks the child questions about Christmas. Afterwards, they can take a photo with Mrs. Claus if desired. As they exit, there’s a display of several animated Santa’s to see.
“This is our gift to the community. We started Santa’s Workshop as a way to bring a fresh breath to downtown during the holidays and draw people here to shop in the Main Street area,” Durisoe said.
The word has already begun to spread as many people riding The Polar Express™ at the Texas State Railroad from out of town Saturday made their way to the Main Street District to visit Santa’s Workshop.
Some of people visiting Saturday were from The Woodlands, Richmond, Live Oak and Palestine, among other communities.
“I love seeing Santa’s Workshop from the child’s point of view — Watching their wonder and excitement,” Sheridan said. “It’s an opportunity to give them an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives and share with their own children.”
Grandparents Jackie and Randy Pais of The Woodlands traveled with their daughter Lori Mitchener and her 5-year-old son Michael Mitchener to see the Santa’s Workshop in Palestine. Later, they were planning to ride The Polar Express™ at the Texas State Railroad in Palestine.
“He’s overwhelmed,” grandmother Jackie Pais said as her grandson sat in Santa’s lap. “I think it’s really neat.”
The first family to visit Santa’s Workshop Saturday was from Louisiana.
“It was their first time to Palestine and they left with a good feeling about the community,” Durisoe said. “That’s what we want.”
As the popularity of Santa’s Workshop begins to grow each week and the line to visit becomes longer, Santa’s Workshop organizers have a number system they will use.
“We have a number system set up where they can pay for their pictures and get a number. If it were to be a two-hour wait, they could come back at their allotted time because they have their number,” Durisoe said. “If they missed their time, they will have the next spot in line. This also benefits our merchants down here because they will have time to shop and dine in Palestine.”
Santa’s Workshop was brought to life by organizers Durisoe, Sheridan and Mary Alice Largent, but community support has been invaluable.
“Paul Priestner is making the doll house boxes. Neely Plumb did the architectural designs for it. Grimes Sewing Center donated the material,” Durisoe said. “Joe Sheridan from Sherman Williams donated the paint.”
Lily Duncan from Duncan’s Antiques donated over-sized samples for the doll house and Jean Mollard from Artifacts Vintage Finds also donated items to bring Santa’s Workshop to life, Durisoe said.
Santa’s Workshop will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will be open Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 18 in the historic Main Street District at Explore! The Children’s Museum, 108 W. Oak St. in Palestine.
Cost is $1 for entrance and $5 for a picture. Santa’s Workshop is a non-profit organization.