North Pole Nights brings new characters to popular local theme park

Two young children sit on Santa’s lap at Gilroy Gardens’ “North Pole Nights” that runs through Dec. 31. Photo by Kaylee Arca

By Kaylee Arca

St. Nick’s sleigh and his trusted reindeer drive a flurry of new holiday cheer into town. Gilroy Gardens comes alive this holiday season with jolly fun new attractions to bring magic into Christmas time for South Valley families.

Through Dec. 31, guests of all ages are invited to stroll down Candy Cane Lane to the warm welcome of Santa, Mrs. Claus, and a magical band of characters and step into “North Pole Nights.”

The park has hosted holiday celebrations since 2004, beginning with the Bonfante Gardens Holiday Lights Special.

This season’s new immersive experience transports families to the North Pole to enjoy favorite holiday traditions, festive food and drinks, and musical performances.

“The holidays are a tradition for a lot of our locals and passholders,” said Michael Fulcher, director of marketing and operations. “A lot of them now talk about how their parents used to take them here as kids. Now, they have their kids and want Gilroy Gardens to be part of their holiday traditions.”

Photo by Kaylee Arca

The “North Pole Nights” highlights include Santa’s Workshop, North Pole Post Office, Candy Cane Lane, Snowflake Square, and the new musical show: The Magic of Santa.

The Peanuts character performed at the park’s last 20 years of holiday celebrations. Now, the new “Magic of Santa” show introduces Rudy the Polar Bear, Skitter the Mouse, Tinsel the Christmas Tree, and more colorful critters. The characters perform multiple times a night at the Lakeside Amphitheater.

“We wanted to introduce a new show this year and use that as an opportunity to reskin different elements of the park,” Fulcher said. “We’re trying to appeal to a wider audience and invigorate the holiday event.”

The interactive show follows the characters, each trying to find their Christmas wish. Through Santa’s magic, each character discovers their wish and learns the true magic of Christmas.

“’The Magic of Santa’ show is such a great show for the entire family,” said Esmeralda Garcia, marketing and admissions manager. “​​It’s cute and interactive with the kids. It has that upbeat feel.”

Photo by Kaylee Arca

An additional five smaller shows are spread out around the park and perform three to four times a night. “Mrs. Claus’ Cookie Jam” is one of the breakout shows. It sits next door to the Cookie Corner in the cafe at the entrance of the park where guests can decorate three cookies for $20 and take them home in a souvenir box.

Near the back of the park, you’ll find Father Christmas sitting atop his throne in Santa’s Workshop. Guests can line up for a chance to meet the famed man and snap a few pictures on his lap.

“When families are coming to visit the North Pole Nights, it truly feels like they’re immersed inside the North Pole and experiencing that whole feeling of it,” Garcia said.

For those who want more time with Santa, families can book A Wish for Santa Experience for an additional $100. Parents can make reservations for kids to meet Santa before the workshop opens. Santa will also give a gift to the kids on behalf of the family.

“The A Wish for Santa Experience is my favorite part because it’s our first time trying something this personal with the families,” Fulcher said. “It gives us a great chance to connect the kids with the product. The kids were the most excited that I’ve ever seen a kid. For the younger kids, we’re really bringing the magic of Christmas alive.”

“The kids are having that magical experience with Santa,” Garcia said. “And the parents are also having the best experience getting to see their kids excited to see Santa and getting a gift from Santa.”

Gilroy locals Mari Harris and her husband are season passholders and brought their three kids ages 3, 5, and 10 to experience the magic of the holidays. However, Harris joked that they were more interested in the playground.

“The playground is literally their favorite part,” she said. “Out of everything that’s here, all of the food, snacks, and rides, this is the thing they want to do the most.”

The Harris family planned to make their way to visit Santa in his workshop.

Photo by Kaylee Arca

Mayra Gonzalez drove two hours to visit “North Pole Nights” with her husband and two children, ages 1 and 8.

“We enjoy the rides,” she said. “Our favorite ride with my daughter is the Quicksilver rollercoaster.”

Michael Taylor and his wife traveled from Aptos to experience the festivities with their 2 1/2-year-old grandson.

“We like the lights and some of the rides,” he said. “My grandson likes to ride the cars, balloons, train, and carousel.”

“The energy of the park changes so much when we open for the holiday,” Fulcher said. “Everyone is so mellow and ready to participate in the jolly spirit of Christmas. I’m very glad that even with the new product and introducing the new show, we haven’t lost that sentiment with our guests as they come to the park.”

All of the rides except the paddle boats, rainbow boats, and monorail are open for “North Pole Nights.”

The price of a single-day ticket for “North Pole Nights” can be applied and upgraded to a 2024 premium membership. Memberships purchased now are valid through all of 2024.


Kaylee Arca is a Morgan Hill-based freelance reporter.