La PORTE — Pioneer Land will offer the public an old fashioned Christmas this weekend.

The La Porte County Fairgrounds' Pioneer Land will host its 22nd annual Christmas open house at the fairgrounds on Saturday and Sunday. The free event will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. on both days.

Visitors to Pioneer Land are invited to check out all the buildings, which organizers will deck out with handmade seasonal decorations.

One of the fixtures of the holiday event is a visit from Santa Claus himself. Dressed in 1800s attire, including a long robe and hat, Jolly Old Saint Nick will take up residence at the Antique Barn, where children can sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas.

Kids who drop by the Pioneer Land Post Office can also jot down their wishlist and have it passed along to Santa.

"Santa takes [the letters] back with him, and he answers every single of them," said Dick Reel, one of the organizers of the open house. "Parents have told us that the kids get a real kick out of receiving a letter back."

Other attractions include the Blacksmith Barn, where crafters will create festive items like steel candy canes, wreaths and reindeer shoes, Reel said. 

Visitors can also check out the site's Christmas trees, which organizers will adorn with decorative milkweed pods, wood-burned snowmen and period-appropriate ornaments. 

Visitors can also warm up by the stove in the One Room Schoolhouse, see beautiful stitching in the Quilt Cabin and watch wool spun into yarn at the Spinners Cabin.

Refreshments can be enjoyed in the American Heritage Log Cabin and hot chocolate is available in the Farm Bureau Milk Cabin

Visitors can also tackle their Christmas shopping in Pioneer Land's General Store, where they can buy candy and other seasonal items.

Participants are invited to check out the new Woodshop. Visitors may also take pictures in front of the covered wagon and the big rocking chair in the Artisan Barn.

Draft horse wagon rides will be offered both days, weather permitting.

A group of volunteers who maintain and oversee Pioneer Land came up with the idea of hosting a Christmas-season open house more than 20 years ago, Reel said.

Initially, the group discussed possibly hosting an old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner on the premises. They instead chose to focus on Christmas, which would allow visitors to enjoy more of the Pioneer Land property, Reel said.

Around 40 Pioneer Land volunteers will be on-site this weekend, serving cookies inside the cabins, tending to the outdoor firepit and answering questions from visitors. Each will dress in pioneer apparel, further enhancing the experience for visitors, Reel said.

"It's a neat atmosphere," Reel said. "Just a light dusting of snow makes it even better."

The combination of historical authenticity and holiday spirit has made the Pioneer Land Christmas Open House a massive annual spectacle, Reel said. The event draws huge crowds every year, with families traveling from all over the region to check out the festivities, he said.

Some of the guests are so impressed that they decide to become Pioneer Land volunteers themselves.

"This event has really worked out well," Reel said. "It's a fun thing for us as well as the public." 

The public is reminded to dress appropriately for the possible cold temperatures.

Those visiting are asked to enter Pioneer Land off Zigler Road at the first entrance into the fairgrounds and turn right at the Community Building or enter off Zigler Road at the horse arena.

Visitors may not park in the village, but may park on paved areas near the village. Also, they ask that visitors not park on the grass.

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