The Denver Center’s Off-Center alternative to ‘A Christmas Carol’ is an immersive dive into the deep end of the yule pool

Abandon all vestiges of Scrooginess, all who enter here!

That’s the advice I’d give to anyone venturing into Camp Christmas, the interactive holiday extravaganza now up at Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace.

What is it? It’s an old aircraft hangar turned into a comprehensive and at times overwhelming display of Christmas … everything. There are hundreds of Santas, Christmas trees of every type from every era, a zillion colored lights, day-glo carpeting and an insanely coiffed Marie Antoinette riding a rococo sleigh.

And that’s just in the first few minutes.

Max-Blucifer

Max Eshleman of Denver reacts to the Blucifer installment at Camp Christmas. For those who don’t like the creepy DIA horse, here he is impaled on a candy cane. Photo: Kalyn Eshleman

As you stroll through the dazzling array of meticulously curated and arranged Christmas stuff, you’ll be forgiven for not knowing which way to look next. Every square inch of the 10,000 square-foot display area is covered in Christmas. Look up, look down, look all around and you’re entirely steeped in it.

But Camp Christmas isn’t just a bunch of Christmas stuff randomly assembled in one place. There are thematic displays and areas, museum-like, with informational cards telling us about how the holiday is practiced around the world, how the nuclear age influenced how Christmas in the U.S. looked in the ’50s and ’60s, plus a lot of interactive items visitors are encouraged to engage with.

With your “field guide,” you can move through Camp Christmas and collect stamps (er, Merry Badges) from different areas to help ensure you’ve touched all the bases. There are several bars, so you can fuel up with holiday-themed drinks, wine or beer and take your cup of cheer along the way.

Camp Christmas is ideal for families, and on a recent Sunday visit I saw almost as many kids as adults. We brought our 4-year-old granddaughter, who was endlessly fascinated by all of it and fully engaged for the hour or so it took us to walk through.

The Camp Christmas story

Camp Christmas is produced by the Denver Center Theatre Company’s Off-Center division, which, as the name suggests, focuses on shows taking place other than at the Denver Center complex downtown enver. Typically at this time of year, the theatre company has its classic version of A Christmas Carol playing at the Stage Theatre, but since it’s closed for renovation, they turned to Off-Center director Charlie Miller to come up with an alternative.

Miller teamed up with Denver-based installation artist Lonnie Hanzon, known for things like the Evolution of the Ball sculpture at Coors Field, the Clocktower Cabaret and many others. Together, the DCPA and Hanzon Studios teams created, designed and built Camp Christmas.

It’s an impressive and rewarding collaboration and, based on the enthusiastic crowds wending their way through Camp Christmas on a recent Sunday, one I suspect might continue as an annual tradition. It’s clear, though, that it took an extraordinary amount of work to put this together (I couldn’t help but wonder at the task ahead taking it all down and storing it).

Although it’s a Denver Center Theatre Company thing, Camp Christmas doesn’t have any kind of performance aspect to it in the traditional sense. Rather, what they’ve built is an enormous set where the people coming through become the players. Photos and selfies are encouraged, and there was a lot of that going on the night we attended. You can’t not take pictures of all this stuff — it’s not often we get to visit what’s essentially an interactive Christmas museum with this level of detail.

Camp Christmas has designated entry times to keep crowding at bay, so when you buy a ticket it’ll be for a set time. Arrive early and take advantage of the many shops and restaurants at Stanley Marketplace (show your ticket for discounts at many of them), then grab a drink at the Santa Bar and enjoy a stroll through what may well be the most elaborate Christmas display this side of the North Pole.

More photos from Camp Christmas

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The DCPA’s Charlie Miller and Camp Christmas creator Lonnie Hanzon talk about the installation