As a group of children quietly crept into the cabin at the Greater Southwest Historical Museum, a familiar face slept in a rocking chair. Once the kids shouted “wake up, Santa” in unison, he slowly emerged from his nap, chatted with the kids, and read The Night Before Christmas before sending them to decorate holiday cookies.
Organizers at the museum estimate 1,800 kids will get to have a similar experience this year as part of Santa’s House on the Prairie, which runs through Dec. 13. Museum director Admiral Wes Hull estimates the event has been happening each holiday season for about 20 years, and volunteers seem to have all the details worked out.
“It takes a lot of people,” Hull said. He estimates between 20 and 30 volunteers will be helping set up, manage, and clean after each day. Planning started in September and Hull said organizers take nearly three months to collect cookies, craft items, and decorations. “We work as a team here at the museum,” he said.
Schools are invited in September and asked to pay $2 per child to cover expenses, but Hull said that scholarships are also available to help students and classes with the experience. The Christmas event lasts until about 11:45 a.m. each day, but Hull said other museum exhibits are minimally impacted and remain open for other visitors.
Students from several schools and daycare centers in Carter County and across Oklahoma are scheduled to visit Santa’s House on the Prairie this year, according to organizers. Once they arrive, students are greeted by a volunteer and guided to the Holiday Forest filled with Christmas trees decorated by area businesses and groups. While there, Mrs. Claus reads a story and shows off some antique puppets that the museum only exhibits during the Christmas holiday season.
Students are then told that Santa Claus may have fallen asleep in the Eaves-Brady Cabin and they are needed to wake him. Once the jolly old elf is stirred, he then reads a book and asks for a Christmas sing along. Children are then treated to a cookie decoration station and finally a Christmas ornament decoration station - each station staffed by two or three volunteers. Students take between 45 minutes and an hour to complete the tour of Santa’s House on the Prairie.
Students seen on Wednesday showed excitement to see Santa and get their hands dirty with crafts. Hull said some schools, especially those with hour-long bus rides to Ardmore, are also invited to eat their lunch at the museum. Classes are sent home with their felt and glitter ornaments to remember their Ardmore visit, but Hull said the volunteers who prepared the nearly 2,000 decorations or nearly 2,000 sugar cookies are the reason Santa’s House on the Prairie continues to be successful each year.
“A lot of work goes into this, but we enjoy doing it,” Hull said.