Camp Christmas_Photo by Adams VisCom

Seven surprises awaiting you at ‘Camp Christmas’

Immersive holiday installation at Stanley Marketplace spans ‘pun trees’ to Blucifer

Off-Center, the DCPA’s most adventurous programming wing, has opened Camp Christmas in creative partnership with renowned installation artist Lonnie Hanzon, who describes it as “the ultimate immersive Christmas experience.”  Through January 5, Camp Christmas is taking patrons on a journey through nine different eras of Christmas with extravagant installations filling the 10,000-square-foot hangar at Stanley Marketplace to its antlered brim.

Lonnie Hanzon. Photo by John Moore

Audiences enter Camp Christmas in regular intervals from 10 a.m. through 8 or 10 p.m., depending on the day of the week. Off-Center Curator Charlie Miller promises a comfortable, self-guided journey for all ages, with seating in every area. It is a multigenerational family activity for some, a romantic date night or an office party for others. It is big, it is weird, and it is fun, he said.

While Christmas has been celebrated in various forms since the 4th century AD, its traditions can be traced to ancient Rome. Hanzon has created an experience that he says focuses on secular commonalities rather than theological ones. Like, for example, Santa Claus.

“Did you know there are at least 50 different Santa characters from throughout the world going all the way back to Saturnalia?” Hanzon said. “America has adopted many traditions that have come together and evolved to become what is seen now with Christmas as a man in a red suit with white fur and reindeer.”

The greatest Christmastime commonality, at least on this side of the globe, is that the holiday brings a brief respite to the darkest, coldest time of year. “In ancient times, men didn’t even know spring would ever return, so Christmas was the time when human beings most needed to celebrate hope peace, love and joy,” Hanzon said. “This journey through the history of Christmas is really the history of our very human need to find light in the darkest time of year.”

But not to exclude those on the other side of the world, Hanzon said, Camp Christmas will feature a Santa Bar and a Beach Bar.

Take a deeper dive into Camp Christmas

So what is Camp Christmas, exactly? It is essentially an indoor walk through more than a dozen intricately designed environments representing Christmas celebrations throughout the ages. Each offers its own period toast, group activity and selfie-photo opportunity. As you wander at your own pace from ancient Rome to the present day, you will have the opportunity to collect “Merry Badges” (a play on “Merit Badges”) that tell the stories of how the traditions and celebrations came to be. It is all meant to be a social, communal, unusual, entertaining and, yes – campy experience.

Camp Christmas_Photo by Adams VisCom

‘Camp Christmas.’ Photo by Adams VisCom.

Seven things you might encounter at Camp Christmas

1. Audiences enter Camp Christmas through a light tunnel and come out in the Santa Bar. Yes, that is a full-service bar – filled with more than 1,000 Santa figurines.

2. There is a gilded sleigh with Marie Antoinette commanding a life-size elk whose antlers become branches that grow, if not all the way to the ceiling, then, really, really high.

3. A large Fairy Forest is filled with trees underneath a 20-foot chandelier made up of 5,000 light nodes. Every 20 to 30 minutes, this chandelier present its own light show set to one of five mashed-up, seasonal songs. “For example, the song might be ‘Jingle Bells,’ but one line might be sung by Elvis, and the next by Ella Fitzgerald,” Hanzon said.

4. There is a mid-century modern room that is all pink. Literally. Even the black-and-white photographs are pink.

5. For the first few weeks of the run of Camp Christmas, Hanzon is building a massive sugar tree he is cooking from 500 pounds of (hot) sugar.

6. Camp Christmas is filled with trees that you will want to examine closely. The Light-Bulb Tree, for example, features 123 years of light-bulb variations, starting with the Edison light bulb all the way up to today’s newfangled plasmas. But for you logophiles, there also is a whole range of “pun trees” for you to word-solve. For, example, if we were to tell you to look out for Hanzon’s “Palm Tree,” we might also suggest that you not be on the lookout for coconuts or feather leaves.

7. The display no Broncos fan will want to miss is Hanzon’s replica of “Blue Mustang,” the famous airport horse sculpture some more colloquially call “Blucifer” for its demonic light-bulb eyes. Here Blucifer has been turned into “a carousel horse who looks like he is being speared by a candy cane,” Hanzon said.

Hey, they said it was going to get weird.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Camp Christmas: Ticket Information

  • When: Through January 5
  • Where: At the Hangar at Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas Street, Aurora
  • Hours: The experience is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays through Thursdays; from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays (with some exceptions; schedule subject to change).
  • Santa visits: Children can meet Santa in his cabin on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Tickets: Start at $8 and are available by calling 303-893-4100, in person in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex at 14th and Curtis streets or, online by clicking here:

Photos of Camp Christmas

Photos by Adams Viscom for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Our full photo gallery from the making of Camp Christmas