You may have started thinking about Christmas around Halloween or perhaps Thanksgiving, but at Kraynak’s in northwestern Pennsylvania, they started preparing for the holiday last January.
Kraynak’s is a locally famous purveyor of year-round Christmas décor that raises the holiday décor bar several notches beginning mid-September. This is when Santa’s ChristmasLand opens.
The exhibit is a 300-foot-long indoor corridor that features oversized, themed Christmas displays full of more glitter, lights, ornaments and animated figures than you’re likely to find anywhere. The windows offer a dizzying array of Santas; elves (they are popular this year); snowmen; woodland creatures; angels; kids playing in the snow; polar bears; nutcrackers; giant candy canes; reindeer; poinsettias; little toy trains; candy canes; and Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
It is visions of sugarplums on steroids.
The windows also include more than 80 themed trees, which can be purchased, fully loaded, for half price after Jan. 1.
We were initiated into Kraynak culture in mid-September while on a road trip through western Pennsylvania’s Amish country with my husband’s brother and his wife. As we passed through Hermitage, my brother-in-law suddenly remembered that ChristmasLand had opened and we made a quick turn into the parking lot.
We headed inside to see an overwhelming 20,000-square-feet of Christmas decorations, tchotchkes, toys, trains and trees. I took a deep breath, followed my in-laws (they knew the lay of the land) and hoped I’d see daylight again.
After cruising the endless aisles full of everything Christmas, I emerged alive with several ornaments, but not without quietly fretting that I might have missed a corner or display rack.
Then it was time for Santa’s ChristmasLand.
We walked through the archway, festooned with holiday baubles and bows, and started down the line of elaborate displays. We were able to linger as long as we wanted because there were only a handful of others strolling through the exhibit, but just wait — which is what you’ll do if you come to ChristmasLand any weekend after mid-November.
“The wait this past weekend was an hour long,” said store manager Dan Zippie when I spoke to him in early December. “Many people make it a tradition. There are adults who went through when they were children and now they are bringing their grandchildren.”
Kraynak’s was founded in 1961 by Zippee’s grandfather, John Kraynak Sr., a 16-year-old immigrant from Slovakia (formerly Czechoslovakia). His enterprise began as a nursery with 10 artificial Christmas trees, and eventually morphed into 14 lavishly decorated rooms featuring electronically animated figures depicting every aspect of the yuletide season you can possibly think of. (The family still has 700 acres nearby where they grow trees and ornamental shrubbery, and greenhouses where poinsettias, mums and annuals are cultivated.)
The planning for ChristmasLand begins about three weeks after Christmas, and up to 20 employees work for weeks to create the final product. Fans don’t have to wait until September for an extravaganza, though. Kraynak’s builds a similar exhibit celebrating Easter.
Giant bunnies or jelly beans, anyone?
Kraynak’s is located 70 miles north of Pittsburgh; 90 miles east of Cleveland. Santa’s ChristmasLand opens annually Sept. 10. BunnyLand opens Feb. 20. Both attractions are free. Visit http://www.kraynaks.com/
CORRECTION: In my column of Dec. 4, Logan Fisher was misidentified in a photo.
E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at [email protected]