By DARCY DOUGHERTY MAULSBY
LEMARS-Ever experienced an authentic winter wonderland? Step onto the Plymouth County Fairgrounds in December at dusk, and prepare to feel like the world has transformed into a giant snow globe, filled with sparkling holiday lights, 85 charming Christmas trees in Century Hall and enchanting Christmas displays throughout the iconic, 100-year-round barn near Pioneer Village.
“It’s just unbelievable how much people love this event,” said Bonita Davison, who coordinates the Pioneer Village Christmas Wonderland. “Last year we estimated that more than 3,000 people came through here – our biggest year yet.”
The free event, which offers food, music and fun for all ages, is held two weekends each December. This year’s event started Dec. 8-9 and continues Dec. 15-16 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. each evening.
For the “elves” who make the Christmas Wonderland a reality, their mission is simple: celebrate the tradition of Christmas by sharing the spirit with community and family in a beautiful, historic setting filled with entertainment, food, fun and fellowship.
The Pioneer Village Christmas Wonderland started approximately 25 years ago when some older gentlemen decided to bring a little extra holiday cheer to the community. Since then, the event has grown to include many civic groups, ag organizations, businesses and volunteers from LeMars and Plymouth County.
Planning for each year’s event starts in mid-September, said Davison, who noted that this year’s attractions include:
– 85 decorated Christmas trees in Century Hall, each featuring a different theme. The Plymouth County Farm Bureau honored the organization’s 100th anniversary with black-and-white paper ornaments featuring vintage scenes of the local Farm Bureau. The Plymouth County Pork Producers topped their tree with a locally-made pillow featuring the outline of a hog and the humorous message, “Sorry for what I said when we were sorting pigs.” Some decorations, like the children’s pajamas that adorn Northwest Bank’s Christmas tree, are donated to those in need. “The Christmas tree display started in the round barn years ago, but so many groups wanted to decorate trees that we had to move to a bigger building,” said Davison, who has worked with the Pioneer Village Christmas Wonderland more than 15 years.
– Free treats. The Plymouth County Pork Producers provide pork sandwiches some nights of the event. The local Lions Club provides popcorn, while the American Legion offers hot chocolate. Rotary provides cookies and coffee, while the Kiwanis Club provides popcorn balls. A local snowmobile club hosts a marshmallow roast. Hy-Vee donated 150 dozen cookies this year, while the Western Dairy Alliance donated $500 worth of chocolate milk, Davison added.
– What would Christmas be without toys? The local Town and Country Toy Club provides a free toy for every child who stops by, plus children can visit Santa at Pioneer Village and receive a bag of goodies, including candy, peanuts and a coloring book.
– Music. Not only does holiday music bring the Pioneer Village to life, but live music from local choirs, pianists and other performers is provided at Century Hall.
– Horse-drawn wagon rides. Davison and her husband, Dean, own Percheron horses, which they use to pull a wagon illuminated with Christmas lights. “People just love the horses,” said Davison, who dresses up as Mrs. Claus.
– The round barn is the hub of holiday fun, thanks to nativity scenes and displays of snowmen, Santa collections, elves, an electric train at the North Pole, Santa’s doll house, pint-sized Disney and Sesame Street characters (including Cookie Monster playing “Blue Christmas” on his guitar), a miniature lighted Ferris wheel and all things Christmas accenting the horse and cattle stalls. Filled with light, music and motion, the 100-year-old barn provides the perfect setting for large inflatable holiday decorations, animated ornaments, a 12-foot Christmas tree and more. Even the large, metal manure carrier that once served a vital purpose is dressed up for the holiday season. Getting chilly? Warm up with a cup of hot cider, which is served inside the silo in the middle of the barn. “This barn is just amazing,” said Davison, who noted that 61-foot-diameter barn was built on the Peter Tonsfeldt farm west of LeMars in 1918 and was moved to the Plymouth County Fairgrounds in 1981.
– The Christmas story is read throughout the duration of the Pioneer Village Christmas Wonderland at the small chapel to remind people of the reason for the season.
“LeMars is a great community filled with great people,” said Davison, a long-time LeMars resident. “I enjoy helping with all this and love to see people catch the holiday spirit.”
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