At This Hotel in Tennessee, It's Christmas All Year Round

The Inn at Christmas Place spreads good cheer with boughs of holly and visits from Santa—every day, 365 days a year.

Dec 23 2015, 5:00am

The North Pole Village—in Tennessee. Photo by Janet Donaldson via Flickr

When it comes to the quantity and duration of Christmas decorations, there are two basic schools of thought: The first involves as much face-time with tinsel and LED-icicle lights as possible, and dictates that the tree be set up the day after Thanksgiving and removed sometime in late March, when its needles are long since brittle and you've started getting dirty looks from the neighbors; the second involves more restraint, decking the halls a week or two before Christmas and removing all traces of the holiday on New Year's Day.

Neither of those approaches is applied at the Inn at Christmas Place, a holiday-themed hotel deep in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Because at the Inn at Christmas Place, it's Christmas all year round. Situated across the street from The Incredible Christmas Place, which bills itself as the South's largest Christmas-themed store, the hotel offers twice-weekly concerts by a singing Santa, boughs of (fake) holly in the guest rooms, and workshops on topics like elf-level present-wrapping. It's not exactly religious—just for Santa super fans.

While that seems perfectly charming in December, what's it like to work in such a place in June? What does it do to the Christmas spirit? The Scrooges of the world might view the whole endeavor as gross excess, a temple to consumerism—but to hear Dwight McCarter, the Inn's guest relations manager, tell it, there's nowhere on earth like his hotel. Just in time for the (actual) Christmas holiday, VICE spoke to McCarter about what it's like to dwell in perpetual Yuletide.

Mr. and Mrs. Clause at Christmas Place. Photo by Janet Donaldson via Flickr

VICE: Could you tell me a bit about the history of the Inn at Christmas Place?
Dwight McCarter: The Inn at Christmas Place opened June 15, 2007. We're into our ninth season. The original concept came from our Incredible Christmas Place retail store that's celebrating its 29th year. We had so many people saying, "We love it over here, we wish we could spend the night," and the more we heard that, the better it sounded to build a Christmas hotel for our guests who'd been shopping at the store for a long time, and for other folks coming into the area.

Did you work at the store before the Inn existed? How did you get involved?
The general manager and myself, we've known each other forever, and have ridden horses together over about every trail in the Great Smokies that you're supposed to be on—and several that you're not. I had planned to be here for about six months, and work a couple days a week, but I helped carry the furniture into place, and I've been here ever since we opened nine years ago.

There probably is no such thing, but what's a "typical day" like at the Inn? What's the mood like?
There's just an aura about this place. There's a sense of well-being and contentment, of safety and happiness. Christmas doesn't just happen on December 25th for us. We have families visit who maybe had a loved one deployed overseas, or are rallying from an illness, and they celebrate Christmas with us all throughout the year.

But do you ever get all Christmas-ed out? Like do you get Christmas fatigue because you're doing it all the time?
No, because where I sit, my desk is right inside the front door. Every day it's new, when you see people who are walking in for the first time, especially children, when you see the smile and look of wonder and amazement in their eyes, it's fresh. And then we have folks who have stayed with us 15 times, 20 times, 25 times, 30. When they come back, it's like a family reunion.

It sounds like you have a lot of regulars. Do they come mostly come from the region, or all over?
We draw from all 50 states and several foreign countries, but we draw a lot from Ohio and Kentucky and the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.

Photo courtesy of the Inn at Christmas Place

Since it's Christmas all year round, what's different at actual Christmastime?
We're always decorated inside, but this year, we have ramped it up outside: We've decorated about 30 to 35 trees, put up roughly half a million more lights outside. For the first time since we've been here, we've done a wonderful new design down by our sign. It's a penguin family.

What about fresh evergreen decor? That must be hard to get all year round.
We don't do the fresh stuff inside. We have four ladies in our decor department who keep us looking fresh, keep all the lights on, keep us dusted, keep our bows properly fixed, but nothing live inside.

That sounds beautiful. Is Christmas your busy season, or do you get more business during non-Christmas months?
The week after Christmas, from December 26 through the end of the year [is the busy season]. Everybody's out of school, and our local ski lodge up in Gatlinburg, about nine miles from us, will be making snow, and all the outlet malls are running massive after-Christmas sales.

The quietest times are Sundays through Thursdays in January, February, and March. It's quiet and peaceful and you get to catch your breath and get ready for the coming season.

Does it ever feel weird to be celebrating Christmas in, say, August, when it's hot and humid?
It really doesn't! One thing we do here is we celebrate Christmas the entire month of July as well, when can use the outside and the outdoor pool. When you've been here, it's just the way is it, really nothing weird about it at all.

Santa will be here, and we'll show you how to build the perfect gingerbread house and tie the perfect Christmas bow. We'll do face-painting with the children, and have movie and popcorn night with movies like White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street. By July, everyone's run down by the heat.

Santa and his mailbox at the Inn at Christmas Place. Photo by Janet Donaldson via Flickr

Has working at a place like the Inn at Christmas Place changed your personal experience of Christmas, how you celebrate it at your home with your family?
I think it has. My wife and I have realized how important every opportunity we have to gather our children and grandchildren is; how wonderful it is to spend time with them over the holidays, but also at any time of the year. It's caused us to slow down a little. We get so busy and so caught up in life, that sometimes we forget to live and to do what's important.

Do you ever field weird, special requests at the Inn?
Santa's here on Thursday nights and Saturday nights, and on occasion, I'll appear as a shepherd or one of the wise men. Back about five years ago, Santa and I, as a wise man, helped a young man propose to his fiancée downstairs before one of Santa's concerts. She said yes, and they were married a short time after that. They've had a son, and they named him Nicholas, after Saint Nicholas, and they've come back to see us ever since.

What's the best part of your job?
The best thing is being able to help our guests decide on what they want to do while they're in the area, and listen to their stories of how they came to be here and what it means to their family. The toughest part is when you have folks come in, and you can see that they would just give anything to stay, but from a Biblical standpoint, there's just no room at the Inn.

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