As a mostly outside experience, it’s vastly different than before

In its first iteration for the 2019 holiday season, Camp Christmas was presented in the enormous hangar at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. I called it “an immersive dive into the deep end of the yule pool,” and it’s hard to deny that, for Christmas lovers, it was the must-see holiday experience of the season. In coordination with Denver Center Off-Center, creator Lonnie Hanzon imagined a world that was all-Christmas, all the time comprised of a simply staggering array of elements arranged in a variety of different installations.

Last year, doing an enclosed event like this with thousands of people coming through over the course of a month or so was made impossible by the pandemic, and Camp Christmas moved online for a virtual iteration.

This year, it’s back live, only in a different place and with a wholly reimagined atmosphere. Hanzon and company found what might just be the perfect place for Camp Christmas: a mostly outside spot set within Heritage Lakewood Belmar Park. With 15 historic buildings already on site, Camp Christmas this year is a combination of some of the eccentric exhibits of the original with an outside walking-around experience between buildings.

It’s pretty cool, and this year it also includes some more interactive elements such as a digital field guide/audio walking tour, a quest to decipher a number of “pun trees” where decorations hint at the answer, Santa pix (extra charge) and a number of places to get hot chocolate and titillating seasonal cocktails.

There’s also a small carousel on the grounds alongside the standing Heritage Lakewood exhibits of historic buildings, farm equipment, old cars and the like. We also enjoyed poking around in the expanded gift shop that had everything from light-up CC scarves, T-shirts and hats to gag gifts like kale candy canes and “emotional baggage” totes.

Go at night if at all possible!

We hit Camp Christmas on a recent Saturday afternoon with our two granddaughters and, while we had a nice time, we wished we’d done it at night. There are, of course, a gazillion lights set up all over the place, and there’s no doubt it’s a much better experience after dark. We also happened to be there on one of our crazy, warm December days when it felt more like September than December.

It’s not as easy to get into that Currier & Ives Christmas spirit when Santa’s more in danger of sunburn than getting stuck in the chimney.

On the other hand, the Santa visit is only $10 more and, even cooler, Camp Christmas will have a range of Santas from different racial and ethnic backgrounds — including some fluent Spanish and American Sign. How great is that? Be sure to check the Camp Christmas website to see which Santa is appearing when.

Camp Christmas is a fun holiday visit for all ages. There’s plenty to keep the kids interested (our granddaughters loved the pun trees) and there are several places to get the aforementioned cocktails for adults. Hopefully we’ll get some snow soon, but even dry and sunny, it’s a fun time that’s reasonably priced at only $18 (kids 2 and under are free).