Gardner Village Blog More Than Just Décor: The Story Behind Our Elves AND a Can’t-Miss Photoshoot with Santa
Tuesday Nov 24 2020

This is something that rarely happens. The Big Man, himself, has given us permission to give you a behind-the-scenes look at our Gardner Village Elves, including how they’re working to keep us extra safe this year with a touchless (and FREE!) scavenger hunt. Plus, we have the scoop on a magical Santa photoshoot with Camera Shy. Spots JUST opened and will fill fast, so we’ll get right to it.  

 gardner village elves


While he’s best known as the Jolly Old Elf, Santa could easily add “Busy” to that title. But he’s never too busy for a stop at Gardner Village… even in this crazy COVID-19 year. Alas, his busy schedule does make for a limited engagement, so we want to tell you about this hot-ticket item first.

Camera Shy 

image courtesy of Camera Shy

Santa is in The Village for Christmas pictures with Camera Shy. Sign up before spots fill. 

 photo shoot with Santa

With limited spots available and an enchanting backdrop that can include one of Santa’s remarkable reindeer, this darling outdoor experience won’t last long. Reserve your spot and treat yourself to an extra special holiday keepsake.

 Where to go for christmas pics with Santa

image courtesy of Camera Shy


  • During December, sessions with Santa and his reindeer are available every Friday.
  • Additional Santa options are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Book sessions here
  • Visit Camera Shy online or call 801.566.2127 for more details.



The elves have arrived!

holiday traditions in Utah

They have plenty of new surprises in store and have even used a little of that North Pole magic to create a touchless scavenger hunt!

Elf Scavenger Hunt

This means you can still enjoy this free family tradition, without the need for printed paper. Simply use a smart device (phone or tablet) and the QR code found on the scavenger hunt signs throughout The Village. It’s as easy as aiming your camera at the QR code and your device will do the rest to get you going on your jolly journey.

 safe COVID activities this holiday season

If you prefer to keep tradition as it is, you’re welcome to print scavenger hunt forms from home.



Did you know Santa has a small crew of helpers who spend hours each year getting the elf displays ready for your enjoyment? That team is led by Tyler, the handsome elf on the right in this pic.

 CF Home

“As soon as we get the witch displays out in September, we move on to our elves,” Tyler said. “Because we try to find new hiding places and scavenger hunt ideas from year to year, we have to start thinking and setting up early. Plus, with nearly 100 elves in our workshop, it’s a big job!”

Archibald's Restaurant 

That’s right, there are at least twice as many elves as there are witches. Can you believe that? No wonder the tiny in-house team of two (Tyler and Keri) have to start on things early. Plus, the elves get TLC every year before making their annual debut.

handcrafted Christmas displays 

“We re-dress elves and re-paint many of their faces each year,” Tyler added. “This year, we got about eight faces painted before we started putting the displays up, and we’ll continue doing touch ups as the season goes on. It’s a time-consuming but fun process.”

naughty or nice

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Odds are, when you and your family are out finding the fresh faces, Tyler or Keri will be nearby, working to keep the elf sightings enchanting.

longtime holiday traditions in Utah 

“I love overhearing our guests discussing the elves,” Tyler said, smiling. “Their comments encourage me to push and do more year after year. It’s like fuel for my creative tank knowing that what we do is appreciated by so many.”

things to do with kids  

And what the Gardner Village decorating crew does is about more than just setting up a scene. Great thought goes into the placement of the elves, the directions they’re looking, even little details that are often overlooked.

 free family fun

“I like to hide little things in the displays,” Tyler said with a mischievous grin. “In one display, the focus is on the elf doing the gift wrap, but there’s also cat, ready to cause some mayhem in the nearby Christmas tree. Most won’t even see the cat, but I know there’s that one little kid who’s will see it and be so excited. It’s all worth it, just for that!”

holiday details 

PRO TIP: Pay extra attention to the details surrounding the main displays. Tyler spilled the beans that there are many hidden… Easter eggs, so to speak. How many will you find?

 rise at gardner village

Also, pay attention to the expressions and interactions. Thought has gone into every last detail.

skiing elf

 holiday gift wrap

“You definitely develop a relationship with these little friends as you work with them,” Tyler admitted. “As you paint their faces and find their fashion, you imagine their personalities. Each elf has a story to tell. The elf sitting at the table, for example, is waiting for her date to arrive.”

 elf on a date

Elves date? Who knew? LOL Tyler, that’s who. This all goes to show that much love goes into this treasured tradition. As does much thought.

 annual christmas traditions

“Believe it or not, one thing we often hear about is the diversity in our displays,” Tyler added. “You don’t always see that with traditional holiday décor, and it’s something we’re quite proud of. We love that guests notice our efforts.”


You’ll also notice that elves recognize the importance of COVID-19 precautions. There’s even a masked elf, ready for his close-up (well, close-ish) with your cuties.

safe holiday activities during COVID-19 

“The masked elf is one of my favorites,” Tyler said. “In a way, he serves as a reminder that we can still have fun, even in these strange times. I’m glad our outdoor seasonal displays have provided that for families this year.”

 bah humbug

And the work is noticed. We happened to meet guest Shanyn Farrer, on Elf opening day. She has serious health complications and was so happy to have an opportunity to get into the spirit of the season in a way that felt safe for her.

 great holiday photo ops in Salt Lake area

“This was only my second time out of my home since March,” Shanyn exclaimed. “I have to be so careful… It feels great to finally be out, doing something that feels safe. I love seeing the elves and come nearly every year. I’m glad we could come this year. Because everything is outside, it felt like something we could do, and because the shops are small, we even got a little shopping in.”

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Shanyn and her husband were both wearing lovely new winter hats that they had just purchased at Willow Hill Yarn Company. Looking good, friends!

 Willow Hill Yarn Company

We’re overjoyed to know how much our work at Gardner Village means to your holiday celebrations. As Tyler mentioned, your happiness puts fuel in our tanks to always has us thinking and striving to do more. Thank you! We hope you’ll share pics of your visits to Gardner Village this year by tagging us on social.

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We can’t wait for you to hang out with us soon! 

Labels: camera shy, elves, elf display, free family events in utah, holiday tradition, scavenger hunt, willow hill yarn company, safe holiday activities in salt lake, things to do with groups in utah, free outdoor activities