The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Hensler Nursery Christmas Fest Is Back Through December 22
Writer / Angela Cornell
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or at least, so the Andy Williams song goes. But what makes this time so magnificent? It’s not just the music, snowfall on Christmas Eve or the special dishes Grandma makes every year. It’s also the wonder in a child’s smile when they see Christmas lights. Santa’s ho-ho-ho’s have it, too. And don’t forget the feeling when you find that perfect Christmas tree. Simply put, the magic of Christmas is in the unique experiences that come around only around this time of year.
That is exactly what Hensler Nursery has captured with its Christmas Fest over the last 25 plus years.
For the first few years, the concept of Christmas Fest was simple enough.
“We took the old barn and cleaned it out. We did everything in there. We had some hot chocolate, offered wreath decorating and sold items out of there,” says owner John Hensler. “We kept growing and outgrowing everything here. As we needed more space, we just kept capturing buildings.”
At first it was just the old milk shed, where Santa used to greet the children before he was moved to a larger building. Then they renovated other sheds and barns, adding more activities, refreshments and merchandise over the years to accommodate the growing crowds.
“We’ve tried to keep the same charm throughout the whole place,” Hensler says.
For the average customer, finding the perfect Christmas tree, chopping it down and getting it back to the car takes a little over 20 minutes. That includes a free horse-drawn or tractor-drawn ride back to the pines and firs. So why do most of Hensler’s guests stay for three or four hours? Because no one wants to miss the Christmas village, the assortment of buildings bustling with fun activities like a petting zoo, refreshments provided by local organizations, beautiful ornaments and unique fresh wreaths and garlands. “We’re trying to captivate you,” Hensler says. “We’re trying to overload you with visual and olfactory sensory things. Hopefully, it’s the kind of overload that makes you want to come back.”
The Christmas village is largely thanks to the creative minds that work there.
“It’s fascinating that I can walk up town and people will recognize me or they recognize the name,” Hensler adds. “I get the credit, but often it’s not me, but all of the talented people that put things together. They each have a strong degree of talent to be able to visualize and put things together. It’s certainly not the high pay, but they can get high enjoyment out of seeing the things they have crafted.”
Every Christmas party takes time, and Hensler’s month-long Christmas Fest is no exception. Months go into planning the activities, with animals to stock in the petting zoo, how many locally handcrafted items to buy and a hundred different details.
“Basically, we try to change it up each year and hopefully exceed your expectations,” Hensler says. “By the time we’ve put everything up, the tree fields are the same, but you’re in a unique 300 acres. So, we want it to look exciting.”
Just like with most of us, Christmas to Hensler’s means more than just having a good time. This is a season of giving back to the community.
“We open up a building so that different organizations can provide food service,” Hensler says. “We provide the space and do not charge for that. Everything those groups make goes back into their organization.”
So what happens at Hensler’s when Santa returns to the North Pole? Hensler and his employees focus on the tree nursery end of the business, raising dozens of varieties of trees — hardwoods and conifers — from seed for commercial and reforestation purposes.
“This was the root of the business,” Hensler says. “Then we got into raising Scotch Pine Christmas trees back in the 50s. The heart of the business is to raise trees. Fifty percent of our business here is handling the nursery crop. The other 50% would be the Christmas tree wholesale retail business.”
Nor is there much downtime between Christmas and preparing for spring.
“As soon as the holidays are over, after everybody has taken a break, they’re back to reordering to restock the barn in January and February,” Hensler says.
Around March, they’re ready to ship seedlings to customers as soon as the danger of frost has passed.
Throughout the Christmas season, though, Hensler, along with a dynamite team made of Santa and Mrs. Claus, their merry elves and the rest of the Christmas Fest crew are making magic happen.
“People come because they like to feel something about a celebration that we’re creating here,” Hensler says. “It might be more enjoyable to be here than going to the Black Friday Sales.”
Hensler Nursery is located at 5715 N. 750 East in Hamlet, Indiana. Christmas Fest has events running through Dec. 22. For more information, visit them online at henslernurseryindiana.com or give them a call at 574-867-4192.