For Clifton Park residents Michelle Annese and Paula Tambasco, Christmas means camaraderie.
That means season's greetings, cups of hot chocolate, Christmas stories and visits with Santa Claus.
The women are offering yuletide family activities at Christmas Land, the holiday project they began in 2016. Their business at 3068 Furbeck Road in Altamont promises old-fashioned Christmas cheer.
"It's a time when everything isn't all about gifts and how many things you can buy," Annese said. "It's more about bringing families together to enjoy a day together and have the focus not be on shopping. I feel that's all people do, including myself, before Christmas."
The holiday place will open Saturday at noon. The crew will also entertain visitors Sunday - and during the weekends of Dec. 2-3; Dec. 9-10; and Dec. 16-17. Hours are noon until 7 p.m.
Admission is free.
A look at the Christmas Land checklist:
- A robust Santa Claus, also known as Fred Meier of Delanson, in the classic, deep red suit. Santa will have his own little house at Christmas Land, and families will have one-on-one sessions with the jolly one.
- A story room, complete with Christmas trees and lights, where children will listen to favorite holiday stories.
- Children's crafts that will include making Santa hats, decorating photo frames and Christmas cookies.
- Rides on Frankie, the red and green Christmas Land train.
- Horse-drawn carriage rides - sleigh rides, if there's snow on the ground.
- Arts and crafts vendors.
- Cross-country skiing - again, if there's snow on the ground.
- Cut-out figures for the kids, such as gingerbread men and elves. Kids will place their heads in the figure holes and become Christmas favorites.
- A chance to guess how many Christmas ornaments are in a large container and win a two-year lease on a red Cadillac. The promotion is sponsored by Otto Cadillac of Albany.
- A toy drive to benefit Quest for Grace of Schenectady.
- Rides and some Christmas activities for the kids will cost a few dollars each.
Annese and Tambasco experienced their Christmas revelations in 2015.
"Two years ago, right about now, Paula and I were watching the movie 'Christmas Land' on the Hallmark Channel," Annese said. "It was all about bringing back the spirit of Christmas. When the movie was over, Paula and I looked at each other and said, 'You know what? We should start a Christmas Land. Why don't we start a Christmas Land?'"
In the movie, a woman inherits a Christmas tree farm and plans to sell it. She changes her mind after falling in love with the town and a charming lawyer.
The women and their friends ran their first holiday party in 2015 at Altamont Vineyards, located across the street from their current spot. The new spot is the former DeWitt farm, a 65-acre property Annese and Tambasco purchased earlier this year.
Along with partners J.J. and Suzanne DeVito, the Christmas Land team renovated the old, long-vacant farm buildings. The rustic-looking rooms are now lit by lights and Christmas trees. Holiday music is always on.
Christmas Land will use 27 acres of the property.
"I grew up in Herkimer, Paula grew up in Amsterdam," Annese said. "We both grew up in areas where it was all about community. We really wanted to bring back the spirit of community. Ever since we started doing this project in the summer, we've seen people around here who want to be part of it."
Part of the project is just putting friends and neighbors together in the same place.
"It's to be with your community that's always there for you every day of the year and to really value that," Tambasco said. "We all come together as family during this time of year and I feel like we had that at one point. We want to bring it back."
Annese added that last year, right before the first Christmas Land opened, she dreamed 200 people would show up for opening day. The team had spread the word through social media platform Facebook.
"The minute we opened, it wasn't 200, but it was 50," she said. "I was like, 'Oh my goodness, people are coming.'"
Tambasco remembers the positive reviews.
"They felt something different," she said. "They felt the magic of the spirit come back. They said, 'Please, we beg you, continue this.'"
Annese has made the project more personal. Frankie the train is named after her nephew, Frank LoRe, who was 18 when he died in Liverpool, near Syracuse, in 2013.
"He would have been a senior in college," Annese said. "If he was here, he would have been the one to say, 'I want to drive the train.'"
The Christmas Land website is www.christmaslandllc.com.