The first thing I heard was the carolers; walking up to the ticket station to meet my contact, I was already being treated to some top-notch carols in four-part harmony by a group of talented vocalists all done up in Victorian garb. They finished up their set, posed for a few pictures with the audience that had sprung up and merrily went on their way. Later, Iâ€™d find out that the singers roam all over the Galt House throughout the Christmas season, spreading a little bit of both kinds of harmony all over the historic hotel.
Christmas at the Galt House is a full-fledged experience with a live show, an impressive central attraction based on Dickensâ€™ â€œA Christmas Carol,â€ interactive games and exhibits and ice fairies and elves wandering the premises in character at all times.
The festivities are in their sixth year, and Amanda Lambert, my guide for the day, assured me that â€œevery year we try to make it bigger, make it better. We see what works. We see what doesnâ€™t work.â€
In addition to a general love of Christmas, the festivities have two main inspirations.
The holidays are a great time for travel but a bad time for hotels. Many folks are on the road, but most are traveling to see family and end up sleeping in guest bedrooms or on foldout couches. During this time, many hotels have to lay off staff, and their employees find themselves underemployed at the time they may most need that extra bit of cash.
The Galt House is committed to keeping their staff employed through their slow season. As the event has grown, the Galt House keeps every employee working and employs 200 hundred seasonal workers who portray a mixture of elves, snow fairies, train conductors and other colorful Christmas characters.
A crowd favorite and excellent example of the Galt Houseâ€™s commitment to its employees are the Dancing Bellmen. Every day at 5 p.m., the bellmen in the hotelâ€™s grand lobby start dancing. Now, these arenâ€™t professional dancers brought in and dressed up; these are the actual bellmen. They started practicing back in September.
â€œMary Moseley has these memories of her dad getting them all dressed up in their best, and they would go down to the old Stewartâ€™s store,â€ explains Lambert. â€œStewartâ€™s would put up these window displays, and every one would go downtown to see it.â€
The displays included dioramas featuring dolls rigged to move and twirl. â€œWhen Stewartâ€™s closed in the â€™80s, these dolls kind of disappeared,â€ says Lambert.
When The Galt House began developing their Christmas Experience, they tracked down the dolls from Moseleyâ€™s memories and incorporated them into exhibit, where they can become cherished memories for a new generation of children.
While inspired by dolls only a few feet tall, Christmas at the Galt House goes to some awesome lengths to capture a sense of magic. The main attraction at the Galt House, KaLightoscope, is a luminary retelling of â€œA Christmas Carol.â€
The tale is told with a series of giant silk lanterns. The word â€œlanternâ€ simply doesnâ€™t do the display justice, with luminaries ranging from six inches to 20 feet tall. I really felt like I was in Disney World or something as the bigger than life characters from the Christmas classic surrounded me.
Lit from within by high-efficiency bulbs, this display takes six months to realize. These lanterns have a long and rich history in the Zigong province of China, dating back to the Tang Dynasty. Zigongâ€™s yearly lantern festival is a month long and famous throughout the world. The lantern artist begin working on the Galt House lanterns in China, then journeyed to America to assemble their art before returning home, though a small team will remain throughout December to handle any needed repairs.
KaLightoscope is a sight to see for sure, but kids and kids at heart will find plenty of other entertainments.
The Holly Jolly Elf Show is a high energy mix of music and dance. The show I attended attested to the ability of high energy Christmas music to move kids to their feet. Lots of kids danced right along to the onstage action. The onstage elves were quick to acknowledge and encourage the little performers, and the kids ate it up.
Now, the event is ticketed, and if you want to see the KaLightoscope Experience, The English Village featuring the snow man building and a host of other activities like a ride on Peppermint Express, youâ€™ll need to pay up.
But in the Christmas spirit, the Galt House has made sure that some of the best parts of the attraction are free to the public. â€œItâ€™s our gift to the community,â€ says Lambert. You can see the dancing bellmen, the carolers and the impressive array of gingerbread houses without buying a ticket. You can even get in to see Santa and have your picture taken with him for free. Packets of photos range in prices, but if youâ€™re like me, youâ€™re most interested in posting those pics to Facebook and emailing them to Mom and Dad. The digital downloads of those Santa pics are free of charge. VT
Christmas at the Galt House runs until December 27. Adult tickets are $15; kids two and under are free; and tickets for the older kids are just $5. There are several opportunities to spend more money inside the attraction, with face painting, a few games of chance and a shop that sells fairy princess gowns. For a full list of activities and a schedule for performances visit ChristmasAtTheGaltHouse.com.
By ELI KEELÂ |Â Special Contributor
Photos by CRYSTAL LUDWICK | Contributing Photographer