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A magical Christmas tradition

Volunteers help bring North Pole magic to Owen County’s annual Santa’s Castle event


BY KELLY RODAMER 

Sweet Owen Contributor


SINCE 1985, SANTA’S CASTLE HAS OFFERED A LITTLE PIECE OF NORTH POLE MAGIC TO OWEN COUNTY CHILDREN. The event, originally an idea from Homemaker Pat Wolcott, began as a way to raise money for underfunded children’s projects in the area. Santa’s Castle is now one of the county’s most anticipated events of the year. — Submitted photo

A magical castle entrance, Christmas music playing, teens donned as shopping elves, and Homemakers staged as gift-wrapping elves—it must be time for Santa’s Castle.

Since 1985, Santa’s Castle has offered a little piece of North Pole magic to Owen County’s children. Originally an idea from Homemaker Pat Wolcott as a way to raise money for underfunded children’s projects in the area, Santa’s Castle is now one of the county’s most anticipated events of the year.

The history of Santa’s Castle is as rich as the sweetest Christmas cocoa. The first Santa’s Castles were held in the old library, now the Owen County Senior Center, because space at the Extension Office was limited. The iconic wooden castle entrance was designed and painted by Homemaker Nancy Wiggs with assistance from members of the Silhouette Club. The original wooden walls remain today, and only last year did they require a first touch-up to the paint.

As the popularity of Santa’s Castle grew, more space was needed to accommodate the shopping experience. For three years, Owenton First Baptist Church opened its fellowship hall as a makeshift North Pole. Since 1997, however, the event has been held in its current location at the Owen County Cooperative Extension Office. 

The idea is simple—allow children in Owen County to shop for Christmas presents for their families at an affordable price. For just $5, children could pick out five gifts and take them home already wrapped to put under the tree. Within the last decade, the Owen County Homemakers have increased the number of gifts to seven per child without increasing the entry fee for Santa’s Castle. Owen County Homemaker Dawn Davis explains, “Families are larger these days, and we see more blended families, so this helps put more gifts from the children under the tree.”

“Santa’s Castle is an important piece of the fabric of our community. The economy is hard, and Christmas time can be harder. This program provides a positive resource for kids that is accessible across the community,” Homemaker Alea Hubbard explained. “Few families can take their kids to the store and let them pick out whatever seven gifts they want without breaking the bank. But many families can take their kids to Santa’s Castle for just $5 per kid.”

The shopping experience has been thoroughly planned and tweaked over the years. Children ages 3-12 enter through the magical castle entrance and are greeted with tables full of handmade items, toys, candles, books, games, mugs, candy, and more. With a designated shopping elf by their side, children meticulously shop, taking their list and checking it twice. Once they’ve selected gifts for the lucky recipients on their Christmas lists, they can go to check-out where they pay for their selections, and an entourage of volunteers eagerly wait to wrap each gift. The gifts are labeled so they are under-the-tree-ready as soon as the children leave. 

The excitement is electric and contagious as children exit the shopping hub. 

“I love how excited the kids are about doing their own shopping,” local mom Megan Babik said. “Santa’s Castle lets my kids have complete control of the gift they are giving rather than me doing the shopping and putting their name on the tag. My kids love to give gifts, and this allows them to choose something special.” 

With nearly 200 children coming through Santa’s Castle each year, the event’s success heavily relies on community volunteers. Owen County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences Chelsea Young details the need for volunteers. 

“There are many ways to get involved, and it really does take a lot of people behind the scenes and on the day of the event,” Young said. “At a minimum, we need 37 volunteers during the event, or we can’t operate smoothly. More hands make merrier work, though!” 

Volunteers start preparing for Santa’s Castle as the clock turns to midnight, ushering in a new year. Throughout the year, collections are made of homemade gifts, trinkets, treasures, and more to create a one-of-a-kind shop. 

As the event draws closer, Young and the Homemakers begin preparations for a visit from Santa Claus, making bags and wrapping products, creating advertisements, and working through logistics. The week of the event, the Homemakers set up the shop and organize the shopping experience. The goal is to create a magical experience for the children year after year.

“It’s important to note that this is a generational event,” Davis adds. “My mom was active with Santa’s Castle, and I watched the time she put into making quilted pillows and decorating for the event. I love to shop deals and clearance racks year-round, so I keep a tote at home specifically for items to donate for Santa’s Castle. And now, my daughter is involved as a shopping helper and decorator.” 

Young stresses the importance of the children who have aged out of shopping at Santa’s Castle being welcomed back to volunteer. Since the proceeds are now primarily used as a scholarship fund, she encourages middle and high schoolers to get involved. “Not only will they get to continue in the magic they experienced as children, but they can earn volunteer hours for school and one day may even be the recipient of our scholarship.” 

Volunteering can be easy, and anyone in Owen County is welcome to help. The biggest need throughout the year is the collection and donation of new or gently used/good condition items for the family. The shopping lists range from newborn siblings to great-grandparents, so a variety of donations is always appreciated. Davis recommends collecting items in a tote and bringing them up closer to the event, with your name clearly marked on the tote for easy collection. 

Hubbard details how she gives back, “After birthdays and holidays, I go through my kids’ toys and pull out the ones they have never played with or have outgrown. If a toy is in good condition, I take it to Santa’s Castle. I know it’s going to a good home, and it’s not being wasted as a dust collector at my house.” 

Aside from donations, help with set-up and tear-down is always welcome. Young says it takes about two days to set up for the two-hour event. Tear-down takes less time.

On the day of, door greeters, list makers, shopping buddies, money collectors, and gift wrappers can be in short supply. Anyone looking to volunteer can contact Chelsea Young at the Owen County Extension Office by calling 502-484-5703. 

Santa’s Castle has kept the same traditions alive for nearly 40 years, with only a few minor tweaks to accommodate growing families and community needs. This year, the time has changed, and Santa will be available for pictures. The shop will be open from 9-11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2. Families do not need to RSVP to attend. 

All are invited to attend this year’s Santa’s Castle and experience just a little North Pole magic in Owenton.

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