CAMP TOWN SPACES: A tour through the over-the-top Christmas display at Stanley Marketplace


There’s something magical about the holiday season. Twinkling lights, family and friends nearby, a warm and spicy whiskey cocktail, Marie Antoinette at the helm of a Rococo sleigh.

Okay, one of those things is not like the others, but you can find them all at Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace this season for Camp Christmas, an immersive 10,000 square foot art experience created by iconic Denver artist Lonnie Hanzon and Off-Center, an immersive theater group with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The premise of the display is this: the more the merrier.

Indeed it is.

Hanzon — who calls himself a maximalist, the opposite of a minimalist — has created most possibly the merriest space in all of the metro Denver region with his over-the-top displays, depicting Christmas’s of the past, dating back to ancient Rome, through the Baroque period, into modern days with art deco, mid-century modern and present-day portrayals of the holiday.

Before venturing into Camp Christmas, grab a drink at the Santa Bar, named for the 1,000 Santas that adorn the watering hole. Spiked hot chocolates and winter-y cocktails make the experience all the better.

Then, let festivity take the wheel. There’s literally no other way than to wander and let the glitter, knick-knacks and Christmas stuff direct your attention. Hanzon and Charlie Miller, a curator for Off-Center, designed the Hangar at the Stanley in the theme of “camp,” the design style that features extravagant and not-so-sensible characteristics.

While camp culture is rooted in 60s design, when Susan Sontag first tried to pin-point elements of the style, many in the mainstream became re-acquainted with the term when the Met Gala hosted its 2019 annual ball, “Camp: Notes on Fashion.”

Just like Jared Leto strutting the Red Carpet with a replica of his own head or Katy Perry’s chandelier dress, Camp Christmas is something to behold. But the outrageousness is met with a more literal definition of “camp,” too. Guests are invited to sit around a fire and tell ghost stories, an old pagan winter solstice tradition.

There’s something to enjoy throughout the display for design enthusiasts and history buffs alike.

“There is education involved, but education can be unbelievably entertaining,” Hanzon said in a preview video of the experience. “We’re looking at the things that tie us together as humans, that we’ve been doing for thousands of years. And the history is fascinating, actually.”

Hanzon is no stranger to Christmas. He’s completed Neiman Marcus holiday window displays and been at the helm of the Houston zoo lights display for the past seven years.

He calls Camp Christmas a “selfie palace.” He’s right. A completely pink room, outfitted with a life-size glitter horse, is the Instagram influencer’s dream backdrop. It’s easy to be transported through time throughout the experience.

Camp Christmas, being completely immersive, is somewhat reminiscent of Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf, where guests step into a whole new world to experience a story told through art. Unlike a curated gallery, the guest becomes a part of the scene.

That was a goal of Hazon and Miller with Camp Christmas.

“It’s a place to be social, to be merry, to enjoy some festive cocktails and to experience the art and the story in a totally different way,” Miller said.