The Ogden Christmas Village is a tradition older than many of the parents who bring their kids for cocoa and visits with Santa. The trials the village has gone through are unknown or long-forgotten for most. But for the Christmas Village committee, the restoration is a fairly recent victory.
A dozen or so years ago the village was in a state of disrepair. The village houses were being stored in a field near the Business Depot Ogden (BDO). The program was dismantled from the Municipal Gardens for a few years during the building of the Ogden City Amphitheater. It was temporarily re-mantled in alleyways along Historic 25th Street during the holiday season, then taken apart and returned to the lonely field after the first of the year.
Mayor Matthew Godfrey turned to Jo Pacham, a business owner and supporter of restoring 25th Street. He asked her to head the village restoration and to make the Christmas Village bigger, so it could return to the Municipal Gardens for the coming Christmas season. She agreed to take on the project—until she went to the BDO and saw the state of things. “It was just too big a project for me,” Jo says, “but when I told Mayor Godfrey I couldn’t, he just said ‘you’re already appointed and I won’t take it away.’”
Jo set to work, doing fundraising and utilizing her own staff to complete an additional 13 village houses alongside the repaired seven, for a total of 20 decorative houses that first year.
That was 12 years ago. The ‘Village’ has since become a community tradition.
“One of the first needs were trailers, because they all had rotted tires, and we had no way to move the houses. I have to give credit to Big Bubba [Big Bubba’s Trailers] because I went there hoping he would give us trailers at cost…He just asked me ‘Is it for the children?’ When I said ‘yes,’ he gave us those trailers for free.”
Big Bubba gave twenty trailers that first year. He has continued to supply free trailers to Christmas Village as it added new houses, all 62 of them.
It costs about $1,000 to build a house “so I went to businesses in Ogden and said, ‘if you build them for me, I’ll have my staff paint and decorate them.’” The Village committee partnered with Youth Impact and Pepsi let them use their warehouse to build, decorate and light the new houses.
“We got it all done and then I asked kids at Youth Impact, ‘What do we need to do to keep these from being vandalized?’ It’s important to understand that Youth Impact serves kids of all backgrounds but at that time in this project, there were a huge number of gangs in Ogden. The kids said , ‘Miss Jo, you don’t need to worry about a thing. In all honesty we all belong to a gang in Ogden; you won’t have to worry about them.’”
“It was the first time they had completed something they built themselves, rather than clean up a mess – a lot of time their community work involves cleaning up messes other people make. This let them build something,” she said, starting to cry. “You’d go down at night in December and they’d be there with their families and their gangs and they were so proud to show off what they had been a part of. It was truly inspiring.”
Godfrey lined up storage and security for the village houses after that, so they wouldn’t just return to a field to sit in the elements until going on display again. “There’s no way I’m going to put this much work into something and have it sit out in the field 11 months of the year.”
Christmas Village added 10-15 houses a year, until they ran out of electricity – they can no longer add houses until additional breakers are installed at the gardens. “Our goal was 100, but we didn’t anticipate we’d run out of power,” Jo says.
Christmas Village is open to the public with free admission. The goal is to provide a community gathering place during the holiday season. “We do sell hot chocolate and that money goes to buy shoes for the children,” Jo explains. Visitors can also pay five dollars for a photo with Santa, which helps fund village repairs and expenses.
“I still go down every night to the village without anybody knowing. It was a great project. I can honestly say I have never worked that hard on anything in my life,” Jo says.
This will be Jo’s last year as chairperson. Craig Bellig is the newly appointed chair, and word has it on Village streets that Jo has given him her direct dial linkup to the North Pole.
People can volunteer or get involved with the committee by contacting Ogden City Volunteer Coordinator, Stacey Olsen at iVolunteer@ogdencity.com.
Christmas Village is free and open to the public. It is lit from 5:00 pm until midnight beginning November 29th through January 1st. More information and schedule of events:
Photos are courtesy of Visit Ogden and The Christmas Village Committee