The most wonderful time of the year has arrived for Michelle Annese and Paula Tambasco.
The Clifton Park residents, founders of Christmas Land in Altamont, will jingle bells, sip hot chocolate and watch kids visit Santa Claus when their merry place opens for the season this morning at 11 a.m.
The women promise old-fashioned holiday cheer at the business, located on the former DeWitt farm at 3068 Furbeck Road.
Annese and Tambaso -- inspired by the Hallmark movie "Christmas Land" - -opened their first version of a holiday inn in 2016. The first spot was Altamont Vineyards, located across the street from the farm location.
They moved to the DeWitt property in 2017.
Along with partners J.J. and Suzanne DeVito, the Christmas Land team renovated the long-vacant farm buildings. The rustic rooms are now brightened by lights and Christmas trees. Holiday songs are always playing.
The mission has always been the same.
"Our whole purpose was to build a place where family and friends could gather together at Christmastime to bring back the spirit of Christmas and bring the community together," Annese said Friday, as team members finished chores before today's opening.
For Annese, the spirit of Christmas means traditional small-town customs such as greeting friends with "Merry Christmas," singing Christmas carols and enjoying a sense of peace.
"It becomes more magical each year," said Tambasco, who wants to see people make connections during the holidays.
"It's the exact reason we wanted to start Christmas Land," Tambasco added. "It's about people coming together, old friends and new friends."
Christmas Land will be open five weekends -- Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. After this weekend, people can visit Dec. 1-2, Dec. 8-9, Dec. 15-16 and Dec. 22-23.
Admission is free. Activities such as visiting Santa, riding Frankie the train or taking a horse-drawn sleigh ride can be purchased individually. Parents can also buy their children "passports" for $29, a ticket that lets kids do everything offered on-site. If the kids can't do everything in one day, the "passport" is still good for a return visit.
Annese said Christmas Land has new additions for this yuletide.
- *An Italian-made wood stove pizza oven, framed by stone found on the grounds, will provide fresh-made pizza.
- *The kids' arts and crafts room has doubled in size.
- Local artisans will provide crafts for sale, such as holiday ornaments, mittens made from old sweaters, wool-knitted caps, candles and wooden signs.
- Covered tunnels are now in place, so people and kids waiting to see Santa in his outdoor house or waiting to board Frankie the train will have shelter from the cold.
- People can book times for their children's visits to Santa, signing up online or on site.
- Horse-drawn sleigh rides on both Saturdays and Sundays.
- Singers will perform each weekend day at noon.
There is also a goodwill element in play. Visitors are asked to bring unwrapped toys, items that will later be distributed -- by Christmas Land's Santa -- to patients at Albany Medical Center. Christmas Land also will donate part of the operation's proceeds to Albany Med.
Annese estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 people visited Christmas Land in 2017. Some adults told Annese the attraction reminded them of Christmas when they were kids.
If people are looking for an old-fashioned Christmas today, they may also feel late autumn chill. Meteorologists expect dry conditions through this morning with rain later in the day. Temperatures will be in the 30s.
"In the North Pole, the weather is cold," Annese said. "Bundle up, there are outside attractions."
The Christmas Land website is www.christmaslandllc.com.
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]