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The City Journals

Santa sighted in Bluffdale

Dec 06, 2016 02:24PM ● By Tori LaRue

Hundreds of Bluffdale residents come to the Bluffdale Park to get their pictures taken with these characters each year. (Bluffdale City Volunteers)

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

Some say that Santa’s workshop is in the North Pole, but some locals claim it’s in the Bluffdale City Park. 

For six years, the jolly, bearded fellow has greeted hundreds of residents at the park‘s Trading Post building as part of the city’s Santa and the Lights tradition. Santa is escorted to the park via a side-by-side fire engine before he leads a tractor parade, reads a Christmas story and invites families to meet with him within the Trading Post. 

“It’s something we as a city look forward to every year,” said Bluffdale Mayor Derk Timothy. 

This year’s celebration on Nov. 26 included live entertainment, photo stations and hot chocolate to keep participants engaged while they waited in line to talk with the honored guest. The tradition is one of the most widely attended events within the city, according to event coordinator Connie Pavlakis. 

Originally Newlyn Green and Bill Underwood, both public works employees, came up with the idea to turn the Trading Post into Santa’s workshop while the post was being used as a children’s prize gallery during Bluffdale’s summer Old West Days. Volunteers from Bluffdale Old West Days got involved to make Green and Underwood’s vision happen.

Volunteers suggested a tractor parade be added to the Santa festivities to give the event an old-town feel. Since that time, community members deck their tractors and all-terrain vehicles with lights, ornaments, tinsel, streamers and other decor, and follow Santa around the park in a parade before the Trading Post opens for Santa visits. Community members watch the sight, and activity volunteers judge the tractors and award prizes. 

“The holiday time of year is all about our children and helping them to have fun, but the tractor parade helps us all to be kids no matter how old we are,” Timothy said. “Some people get really into decorating their tractor no matter what kind of tractor they own, and we realize that we are really all kids at heart.”

Timothy’s five grandchildren ride in the train attached to his tractor. He said coming to the Santa and the Lights activity each season has become a family tradition, as it has for many other locals. 

Pavlakis calls the event “unique,” because of its personal feel. Instead of rushing from one kid to the next, Bluffdale’s Santa takes time for each family, she said. 

“When people go inside the Trading Post, it is like the family’s personal time in Santa’s workshop,” She said. “We keep door closed to keep the cold air out, so it’s one family’s turn at a time to get their picture taken with Santa Claus.” 

Families are willing to wait in line for two and a half hours to see Santa because of the event’s intimate nature, Pavlakis said. Pavlakis said she remembers one attendee who was upset by the length of the line but had a change of heart.

“She was complaining a little, asking why it was taking so long,” Pavlakis said. “We told her that after the event she could give us feedback of how we could improve or speed up the process.

After a more than two-hour wait, the woman and her family visited Santa. After the event, Pavlakis followed up with her, asking how the city could improve its Christmas festivities. The woman told Pavlakis that it was an incredible experience that was “worth the wait.” 

“You just have people like that who end up so appreciative,” Pavlakis said. “It is a private, little small activity for Bluffdale and our community, but it’s one that’s celebrated and important to us.” 

Timothy said the Santa tradition represents what Bluffdale is all about. 

“We like to make things as family-friendly as possible, so we do things as much free as possible,” he said. “This gets neighbors, who even though they live next to each other hardly ever see each other, to finally talk and meet. It is a good thing.” 

Pavlakis said the event will continue. 

To suggest ideas for Santa and the Lights or to volunteer for future Bluffdale events, contact the city offices at 801-254-2200.