Santa's Whiskers

North Pole, Alaska
Established: 1952
Population of 2,117 (in 2010)

What Christmas Is Really Like in North Pole, Alaska
The North Pole is not only real, but with the motto "Where the spirit of Christmas lives year 'round," the small Alaskan city is just as magical as you'd expect.

Home to the Santa Claus House where children's letters are received and promptly answered, candy cane-striped street lights lining Santa Claus Lane and St. Nicholas Drive, not to mention a 45-foot-tall Santa welcoming visitors, it's safe to say the 2,200 residents of North Pole dream of sugar plum fairies on a nightly basis.

"The spirit of Christmas lives year 'round here, we really believe that," Keith Fye, who runs North Pole's Christmas in Ice park, told "People are much more polite and happy around this town."

The elaborate ice park is the town's main hub, according to Mayor Bryce Ward, with its holiday-themed sculptures and life-size ice slides for families to play on.

"Everything happens at the ice park," Ward said. "It's the central downtown area for what happens around Christmas time."

Fye agrees, explaining that the town near Fairbanks has had visitors not only from 37 different states, but also plenty of international guests as well.

"We've had people this year from Australia, Japan, Bosnia, Ireland, Nova Scotia and Russia," said Fye. "It's totally amazing."

And if you make the trip to visit the real-life North Pole, it would be hard to miss seeing jolly old St. Nick. There are three white-whiskered men who don the big red suit, one of whom, the president of the local chamber of commerce, even legally changed his name to Santa Claus.

"There's several Santa Claus' in town. And they all have different jobs," Ward explained, adding, "When you put on the suit, you have to take on these special responsibilities."

So hop in the sleigh and make your way North, because, Fye says, "When it's Christmas time, it's just a joyful time.”

December 23, 2013
By Eliza Murphy Digital Reporter Follow @ElizaWMurphy

Christmas, Michigan
Established: 1938
Population: 1,138 (in 2010)

The History of Christmas, Michigan
According to a poll taken earlier this year, Christmas is the favorite town name in the Upper Peninsula.

Here is a map of Christmas for those of you from outside of the Upper Peninsula who may not be familiar with Christmas. It is located NW of Munising, about a 5-minute drive along M-28.

The town of Christmas has booming population of about 400. Ok, perhaps it’s not “booming”, but on a business night at the Kewadin Casino (by far the largest building in town that looks kind of strange and out of place in such a small town) the population probably grows by some pretty significant percentage points.

According to Exploring the North the town was given its name in 1938 when a Munising man started a roadside factory to make holiday gifts.

Christmas’ zip code is 49862, and many letters have come from there since 1966 when the town received it’s first Post Office. From that point forward many people have showed up in the month of December to mail their Christmas cards and presents so they would be postmarked coming from Christmas.

Christmas is also located near the Bay Furnace campgrounds on Lake Superior in the Hiawatha National Forest. From 1869 to 1877, the campground was the site of Onota, an iron smelting town with a population of 517. The town was destroyed by fire in 1877 and only the iron kiln ruins remain. While in operation, Bay Furnace produced 20 tons of pig iron a day. Ships came to the 1200 foot dock bringing supplies and taking out pig iron. Bay Furnace is on the National Register of Historic Places.

And of course, anyone who has driven through Christmas hasn’t missed the 35-foot tall Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, Indiana
Established: 1854
Population: 2,481 (in 2010)

Can't make it to the North Pole? Try Indiana
Any place that celebrates Christmas year-round is already in an advanced state of magical; during the Christmas season, however, it is nothing short of spectacular. Santa Claus, Ind., has been famous for its Christmas connection since 1856 when the town’s first post office was established.

Home to the world’s only post office bearing the Santa Claus name, plus Santa’s Candy Castle, Santa Claus Museum and Village, the circa 1935 22-foot-tall Santa Statue “dedicated to the children of the world,” Santa’s Lodge, the Santa Claus Christmas Store and more, it’s like having the North Pole right smack at America’s crossroads.

On Friday, Dec. 5, this tiny town, located in southwestern Indiana, shifts into high holiday gear with a knock-your-socks-off Christmas celebration. Chockfull of family events and activities, the merriment takes place over the three weekends leading up to the Big Day.

Visit Kringle Place Shopping Center to see Santa’s Great Big LED Tree of Lights rising above the shop roof line. Illuminated from 5 to 10 p.m., it comes to life on the top of each hour with a patterned light show choreographed to Christmas music.

Complete your shopping list at the shops at Kringle Place, including the Evergreen Boutique; the Holly Tree Christmas Shop, which will host face painting and wood-carving demonstrations; Kringle Haus Werkstatt, home of handmade artisan gifts and the Monkey Hollow Winery; and Santa Claus Christmas Store, where families can participate in gingerbread house decorating and children’s Christmas crafts—not to mention visit with Santa.

Highlights of this year’s Christmas Celebration include the International Fruitcake Eating Championship at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, at the Santa Claus American Legion; the Run Run Rudolph 5K through Lake Rudolph’s Santa Claus Land of Lights, at 4 p.m. on Dec. 6; and the Story of Santa Claus at the Santa Claus Museum and Village. For this, a local storyteller will bring to life Clement C. Moore’s beloved classic poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” in an interactive performance.

Christmas carols, music and more will accompany the presentation—which will also reveal how the town of Santa Claus got its name—scheduled for 2 p.m. on Dec. 6 and 11 a.m. on Dec. 20.

Other events include Christmas Crafts at the Courthouse in Rockport on Dec. 6, the Santa Claus Arts & Crafts Show at Santa’s Lodge on Dec. 13 and the Festival of Lights at Christmas Lake Village on Dec. 13 and 20. Other activities include carriage rides and chestnut roasting, plus writing letters to Santa, chatting with an elf, catching a holiday theatre production and having Christmas Dinner with Santa.

The entire town and surrounding county put its holiday muscle into the celebration, including the shops, lodgings, churches, court house, high school and golf course. Activities spill over from Santa Claus into downtown Rockport and nearby Lincoln City for a full-on holiday extravaganza that has become a Christmas tradition for many families—and it’s the only place in the world where you can experience it.


Write a free letter to Santa at the original Santa Claus Post Office, which annually receives more than 400,000 pieces of mail in December. (All letters received by Dec. 20 will get a reply with the Santa Claus postmark.) You can also stamp your holiday mail with this unique postmark before mailing. Each year brings an original postmark design by a local high school student as part of an annual contest.

Get tickets for Lincoln Amphitheatre Presents: “Scrooge’s Christmas,” at the Heritage Hills High School Auditorium, located in nearby Lincoln City, Ind. Written and directed by Ken Jones, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, it is adapted from Charles Dickens’ classic tale, “A Christmas Carol.” Two shows are presented on both Dec. 6 and Dec. 13; three shows are presented on Dec. 20.

Experience “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” at Santa’s Candy Castle, evenings on Dec. 6, 13 and 20. Originally built in 1935, this red brick castle with all the fairytale trimmings is also home to the North Pole Network, an interactive computer lab for kids that allows them to chat with an elf, give Santa their Christmas wish list and, ahem, find out if they’re on Santa’s Good List and therefore eligible to receive an official Good List Certificate.

Join the crowd at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 13, for the annual Santa Claus Christmas Parade. This tiny town of fewer than 2,500 residents has but one parade a year and this is it, with all the holiday pomp and circumstance you might expect and Santa’s grand entrance.

Visit the Santa Claus Land of Lights at the Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Resort to follow the “Shining Story of Rudolph.” This 1.2-mile-long drive-through LED light show is the only show of its kind in North America that tells a story in lights and storyboards. It is open each night of the Santa Claus Christmas Celebration.
(Published Nov 25, 2014)
Kathy Witt at

Santa Claus, Arizona
Established: 1937
Population: 0
Abandoned: 1995

A Saint Nicholas-themed ghost town in the Mojave desert.

The Mojave desert, with its blisteringly hot summer sun, Joshua trees and bizarre rock formations, would not generally be the place one would choose to honor a man whose traditional home is the North Pole. Yet standing in the desert is the ghost remnants of Santa Claus, Arizona.

Nina Talbot and her husband arrived in nearby Kingman, Arizona, in the early 1930s. Calling herself “the biggest real estate agent in California,” the name originated from Talbot’s girth (over 300 pounds) rather than her business acumen. Nonetheless, she clearly had a flair for public relations.

The Talbot’s founded Santa Claus, Arizona, in 1937 as an attempt to attract buyers to the desert location. It featured several Christmas-themed buildings and visiting children could meet Santa Claus at any day of the year. The town’s post office became very popular in December as children and parents could receive mail postmarked with the town’s name.

The town did in fact become a popular tourist destination, however no one ever bought land there, and the only people living there were the ones working in the town. Failing to see how she would make her real estate profits, and with the town in decline, Talbot sold Santa Claus in 1949, having failed in her attempt to convince people to move to the desert.

One of the places in town that was genuinely successful was its local restaurant, the Santa Claus Inn (later renamed the Christmas Tree Inn). Critic Duncan Hines, who would later become famous for the brand of food products that bears his name, described it as being of the best in the region. In 1950 science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote a short story about a sumptuous gourmet meal served there by Mrs. Claus. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes star Jane Russell even threw a dinner there in 1954. But even this was not enough to save the town and by the 1970s, it had already begun to fall into disrepair.

When writer Mark Winegardner visited the area in 1988 for his new book, it had become a sad shadow of its former self with “Styrofoam silver bells, strands of burned-out Christmas lights, and faded plastic likenesses of Old Saint Nick. A lopsided, artificial twenty-foot tree whistled in the wind beside a broken Coke machine and an empty ice freezer. Two of the three buildings were padlocked; through their windows, encrusted with layers of sand and decade-old aerosol snow, Jim and I saw dusty, overturned fiberglass statuettes of elves and reindeer.”

The last gift shops and amusements went out of business in 1995, leaving little recognizable, except for a few vandalized buildings, a wishing well, and the “Old 1225,” a derailed, pink children’s train covered with graffiti.

As of 2015 little remains of Santa Land, its just two boarded up graffitied buildings, the train is gone, there’s very little nothing special left, someone even stole the face of Santa off the front sign.

Christmas, Florida
Established: 1837
Population 1,146 in 2010

Every Day is Christmas - Christmas, Florida
Christmas, Florida, is a strip of highway 50, east of Orlando, with an overly large post office and a number of local attempts at the theme: Christmas pennants hanging from every telephone pole, Christmas trailer park, the perennial fully decorated tree, religious grottos, and a small, scary Christmas Museum, which is apparently open only by appointment or at special events.

The unincorporated town is no recent opportunist; it was named Fort Christmas in 1837, and the post office has long provided the Christmas postmarking of letters.

The biggest continuity problem -- someone put up a building shaped like an alligator on the block.

Cashing In On Residential
A number of towns across the country have adopted

a Christmas related name, often hoping to take advantage of the commercialized opportunities: free public visibility and positive image, becoming a destination for visitors and tourists, attracting tax paying holiday related businesses and manufacturing, community and population growth. However, very few communities have fared well in this endeavor.    

Santa Claus, Georgia
Established: 1941
Population: 165 (in 2010)

Santa Claus, Georgia: This isn't the one you've heard of
Santa Claus was closed, locked up tight. City Hall was anyway, empty as a naughty kid's stocking.

Here it was barely a week before Christmas and the town with the city-limits sign that is more declaration than municipal marker — “Santa Claus ... The City That Loves Children” — wasn’t exactly bustling. Even at 25 December Drive, Santa Claus City Hall, where the decorations never come down.

When city clerk Barbara Ward rode up in her pickup and unlocked the place for a couple of out-of-towners the other day, she said, “We just open it up on Tuesday, mostly for people to pay their water bills.”

This time of year, folks leave their Christmas cards in a drop box on the front door. (If you do, they will stamp on a just-for-fun, red-inked postmark featuring St. Nick himself and send the card on its way.)

As of last week, they had handled 1,010 cards.

“One person called me up from a church and wanted to know if we could stamp 3,000,” Mayor Earl Horton Jr. said. “I had to call her back and tell her we weren’t equipped to do that.”

The town of 250 or so people, 67 houses and some apartments sprouted from a pecan grove along the east shoulder of U.S. 1, near Vidalia, about halfway between Savannah and Macon, in 1941. The merry moniker was a ploy to reel in tourists so they’d buy the local nuts.

Going on 70 years later, what remains is a subdivision-size curiosity with a convenience store. The Santa Claus Minit Mart to be precise, where the drink cooler is no doubt as chilling as the North Pole.

During the holidays, there are no pay-to-see, Callaway Gardens-style, electric-light extravaganzas.

However, on Christmas Eve, they do line the streets — avenues with names like Candy Cane Lane, Sleigh Street and Rudolph Way — with luminarias, paper bags with candles glowing inside.

“When you get to the end of one street and look down, it looks like a runway,” Ward, 73, said. “It’s beautiful.”

At a Christmas party for children earlier this month, they brought in a man dressed as Santa. Ward, a resident since 1963, said, “A little boy about 8 years old came up to me and he said, ‘You know, he’s the real Santa Claus.’ I said, ‘You didn’t believe in Santa Claus?’ He said, ‘Yeah, but there’s so many.’ ’’

Turns out, there are only a few Santa Claus, USAs. (Perhaps the best-known being the one in Indiana. The other is an uninhabited speck in Arizona.)

What may stand out most about Santa Claus, Ga., is how little it stands out. Despite having the jolliest of names, every day isn’t Christmas. At least not for everyone.

One local, who didn’t care to be quoted “except about Georgia Southern football,” said, “I probably look old enough to be Santa Claus, but I don’t want to be quoted because I deal in realities more than fantasies.”

For the tourist in search of a roadside Shangri-la, there aren’t too many presents under the tree. Not that the city-limits sign won’t elicit a chuckle and a double take or two on the ride up toward Interstate 16 and the store named Sweet Onion Junction, and, farther north, the stretch of Emanuel County four-lane known as the Strange Highway. (So named, if you must know, for former deputy sheriff and civic leader L.C. “Shot” Strange.)

Still, there are perks to telling folks you live in Santa Claus.

“You always get a smile,” said Helen Wright, who moved to the Kris Kringle community in the 1970s and whose front yard features a palm tree growing next to a pecan tree.

“Palm trees and Santa Claus,” Wright said.

Pop into the neighborhood this time of year and you’re about as likely to see “Happy Birthday Jesus” and “Christmas is about Jesus” signs in front of houses as you are inflatable snowmen.

“Everybody, as far as I know, believes in Jesus and believes in Santa Claus,” said Ward, who lives on Reindeer Street. “We have neighbors that are neighbors, but they’re not nosy neighbors.”

Well, not exactly. The enlightened residents of Rudolph Way have to be as, um, nosy as they come.

Joe Kovac Jr. - Macon Telegraph

Image is from

Rudolph, Wisconsin
Established: 1960
Population 439 (in 2010)

Rudolph, the second town to be established in Wood County, is located about seven miles to the north of Wisconsin Rapids. It was named after Rudolph Hecox, the first white boy born here. A large sawmill, stave mill and plenty of farm land drew many men into the area. Incorporated in 1960, the village of Rudolph now has a population of 432 and combining the population of both the village and towns of Rudolph, the total is approximately 1814.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer is highly regarded in his namesake Wood County community. A large, stuffed Rudolph is a permanent fixture in the Fisher Antique store window. The post office has a special reindeer stamp, RUDOLPH WISCONSIN, Home of Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer can be imprinted on outgoing mail. For the past two Decembers the Rudolph Postmistress has commissioned an elementary student to draw a one-day cancellation stamp using Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. "Welcome to Rudolph" signs featuring a picture of a reindeer with a lighted nose greet visitors entering the community on Highway 34. Even street signs in the community have a picture of the red-nosed reindeer.
The annual Rudolph's Country Christmas event, held the second Saturday in December, is the year-end climax to the celebration of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The first celebration was held in 2002. In 2003 a lighted Christmas parade was added.

North Pole, NY
Established: 1949

A Struggling Theme Park Asks: Do You Still Believe in Santa?
NORTH POLE, N.Y. — On a snowy shoulder of Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks, beyond hand-painted signs advertising “North Pole, N.Y.” and “Rides, Shops, Shows,” several parking attendants pushed a sedan, its tires spinning, into a packed lot. The car’s occupants spilled out, joining other families who high-stepped through snowdrifts — just about everyone smiling, some tossing snowballs — toward the entrance to Santa’s Workshop, a theme park from another era.

Inside, a line to Santa’s house snaked toward a frost-covered North Pole, where families posed for selfies and a boy in a puffy snowsuit touched his tongue. Some families roasted marshmallows around a fire pit or wandered into the reindeer stable, where the animals were bedded down and out of reach of little hands. A boy raced from stall to stall, stopping in front of an empty one and shouting, “Where’s Donder? Where’s Donder?” (Donder and Dasher, an attendant elf later explained, had been feeling ill so they were recovering in a nearby pasture.)

While it appeared to be a snow globe-perfect scene, Doug Waterbury, the owner of Santa’s Workshop, said, “It’s a challenge to keep the door open, frankly.”

“We lose money or break even every year,” Mr. Waterbury added. “Attendance is down. It’s hard to get up in the morning to push snow, feed reindeer and then look at all that red ink at the end of the year — and it’s not red because of Christmas.’’

Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, in Wilmington, N.Y., is among the last of the theme parks in the region, outlasting the Land of Make Believe, Frontier Town, Time Town, Gaslight Village and other Adirondack roadside attractions. Since 1949, Santa’s Workshop, an alpine village scaled for children, has welcomed families along the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway, a scenic road that meanders toward the peak’s 4,865-foot summit.

Today, the park’s Technicolor slope-roofed buildings and non-thrill rides are a kitschy throwback that draws dedicated fans fueled by nostalgia, who return with their children or grandchildren to share their childhood experience of seeing Santa and his reindeer.

Near the Candy Cane Express train, Carrie McDonald, 41, who lives in Harvey’s Lake, Pa., and her sister, Erin Richburg, 37, who lives in Philadelphia, watched their children flap arms and legs into snow angels. “We came up in 1984 with our grandparents and have really vivid memories,” Ms. McDonald said. “We’ve made it a tradition to come back. Right now we’re choosing this over Disney.”

Ms. Richburg added, “It’s old-fashioned and simple. It’s all about Santa.”

Standing by the park’s outdoor amphitheater, where Mary and Joseph trudge to the manger, Corinne Curtis, her husband, Dave, and their children, Jack, Deacon, Kainen and Londyn, who range in age from 8 years old to 16 months, were back for a second year, visiting from their home in Binghamton, N.Y. “The old-school feeling is what appeals to us,” Ms. Curtis said. And Santa, of course. “He’s a sweet Santa,’’ she said. “He takes the time with them. It’s not like other commercial places.”

But in the 21st century, a nice St. Nick might not be enough to sustain a theme park in a remote part of the state.

Santa’s Workshop’s inaccessibility — far from metropolitan areas, including five hours from New York City along twisty mountain roads — is “part of the mystique of the place,” Mr. Waterbury said.

But it has also contributed to its decline. In 1967, the final stretch of Interstate 87 — through the eastern Adirondacks — was completed, punching a direct route from New York City to Montreal. It bypassed communities with mom-and-pop motels and cabin colonies as well as diners and attractions that had flourished in the years after World War II.

In the 1940s, when three businessmen, Julian Reiss, Harold Fortune and Arto Monaco, came up with idea of a destination where it was always Christmas, they hadn’t anticipated 90-mile-per-hour roller coasters or parks built around Walt Disney’s characters. (In fact, before Disneyland opened in Anaheim, Calif., in 1955, Walt Disney visited Santa’s Workshop for inspiration and to consult with Mr. Monaco, according to Mr. Waterbury.)

The recession of 2008 pummeled the Adirondack travel industry. The unpredictability of the weather has also presented challenges, including Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, which damaged the park. Attendance has dropped steadily since the 1970s, and now the park attracts no more than about 1,000 people on most days — a far cry from the over 14,000 customers who would show up in the 1950s.

But the biggest hurdle for the theme park, Mr. Waterbury said, is the weakening hold that the story of Santa has on children today.

In the 1950s “a 13-year-old might still believe in Santa Claus,” Mr. Waterbury said. “It’s unusual today that a kid over 7 or 8 still believes. There’s an urgency to get families to bring their kids here before they grow away.”

In the lobby of the Jack Jingle puppet theater, where juice glasses, coasters and other memorabilia are displayed, Danielle and Paul Raimondi, from Center Moriches, N.Y., showed their daughters, Isabel, 13, and Sophia, 10, sacks spilling over with 60 years’ worth of letters addressed to Santa Claus. After the girls wandered away, Ms. Raimondi whispered, “A lot of people in our 10-year-old’s school were talking about not believing, and we wanted to show her that he still does exist.”

Mr. Waterbury, whose company, Empire Attractions, buys troubled assets, joined Bob Reiss, a son of Julian Reiss, as a co-owner in 2004. A decade later he bought out Mr. Reiss after earning his trust that he was committed to keeping the park’s spirit alive. Mr. Waterbury said he felt an obligation to loyal Santa fans, the community and the park’s history.

Mr. Waterbury recently hired a new general manager, John Collins, who has many years of experience in the theme park industry. They’re trying to figure out ways to bolster summertime attendance, the workshop’s most dismal season.

“I’m not going to let it go,” said Mr. Waterbury. “There are enough bad things. This place is about what’s good in life.”