Get into the Christmas spirit by visiting Bethlehem, the North Pole, or maybe even Santa Claus.
By Richard W. O’Donnell
As the holiday season approaches, many cities, towns, and hamlets in America are decked out in lights or finery. But some are garlanded every day of the year by a name that is associated with the yuletide season, such as Bethlehem, Noel, and North Pole.
A number of tourist attractions have special appeal during the holiday season, although they can be enjoyed any time of the year. But some spots are best experienced at Christmastime, for if you arrive too late, the magic will be gone. Holly, Michigan, is such a community.
If you happen to stop off in Holly soon, don’t be surprised if you encounter Old Ebeneezer Scrooge himself, or David Copperfield, Wilkins Micawber, Fagin, or Nicholas Nickleby as you wander through town during the annual Dickens Olde Fashioned Christmas Festival.
“Charles Dickens is always featured at Christmas,” said Ardath Regan, a town historian. “The emphasis is on Dickens, but other 19th-century characters appear.
“During our annual celebration, we usually have about 75 performers out on our streets. We have chimney sweeps, cockney girls selling hot potatoes on the corners, and even a town crier.”
Regan said the Dickens-style Christmas event started because the town wanted to celebrate the season in grand style. “People come from all over to enjoy our annual celebration. And it has been great for our local businesses.”
The 2003 Dickens festival features different activities held over four themed weekends, starting November 28, 29, and 30. For more information, contact the Holly Chamber of Commerce at (248) 634-1900, or visit hollymi.com.
If you wish to see a glorious display of Christmas lights this holiday season, visit Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and you will soon understand why the steel city of nearly 75,000 is also known as “Christmas City, U.S.A.” Bethlehem’s holiday celebration includes historic walks, a night guided bus tour that starts at the Christmas Tour Center, and numerous events, such as musical performances, a Christkindlemartkt (holiday marketplace), carriage rides, a pageant, and much more. Phone (800) 360-8687 or visit www.bethlehempa.org for more information.
By the way, this particular Bethlehem is not alone. Several others exist in the United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. In Bethlehem, Georgia, a rural community of approximately 700, the streets have names closely associated with Christmas. You can take a drive down Manger Avenue, Star Street, Angel Street, and Mary Avenue, to name a few.
Santa Claus, a small hamlet in southern Indiana, also has the Christmas spirit. All of its streets bear Christmas names, as do a number of businesses. Residential communities are dubbed Christmas Lake Village and Holiday Village.
“We have the only post office with the Santa Claus name,” Vevah Harris, with the Spencer County Visitors Bureau, noted. “Every year, we get thousands of letters to Santa from all over America, and from other nations around the world. They are answered by an organization called ‘Santa’s Elves.’ They make sure each child receives a reply from Santa.”
Santa Claus was also home to Santa Claus Land, which became the nation’s first theme park when it opened in 1946 (nine years before Disneyland). Today the park is called Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari and celebrates not only Christmas but also the Fourth of July and Halloween in special themed areas. Its rides, games, and water park attract thousands of summertime visitors to town.
Santa Claus was so designated on Christmas Eve in 1852, when residents met after church services to give the town a name. As they were deciding, the children among them thought they heard St. Nick’s sleigh bells outside and yelled, “It’s Santa Claus!” So, it was.
The town remained a forgotten community tucked away in the rolling Indiana hills until 1933 when a retired lawyer, Milton Harris, moved into town. He opened a souvenir shop and built several small medieval-style buildings that he rented to toy manufacturers. The Curtis Candy Company built a candy “castle” for selling treats to visitors.
Not far away, businessman Carl Barrett opened a park with a 22-foot-high statue of Santa Claus dedicated “to the children of the world in memory of an undying love.” Next to the statue was a wishing well and an “ancient” log cabin, where the merry old soul was supposed to live. The park was dedicated in 1935. The statue still greets visitors to this holiday town, which now has a population of approximately 2,000.
Two events “” Christmas in Santa Claus and Festival of Lights “” are offered December 13 and 14 in Santa Claus; for more information, call the Spencer County Visitors Bureau at (888) 444-9252 or visit www.legendaryplaces.org.
If you are looking for a fresh supply of the kissing twig, try Mistletoe, Kentucky, approximately 11 miles south of Booneville. Jeremiah Burns named the place in November 1900, when he established a post office there. The hamlet has only a few homes and probably no more mistletoe than any other spot in Kentucky. The best time to find this evergreen is during the latter part of the year, after the leaves fall from the trees. Look up, for it will be all that is still attached.
North Pole, Alaska, population 1,680, has paved streets “” something not every Alaska town can claim. And several of those streets have holiday names, such as St. Nicholas Drive, Holiday Road, and Snowman Lane.
The town is not located on the geographic north pole, of course. It’s a somewhat busy oil refining town along the Richardson Highway, a place where snow can fall as early as September and a white Christmas is a sure thing.
A merchant named Con Miller put North Pole on the map. His close friend, Bon Davis, who homesteaded in the area that is now North Pole, used to be ribbed by friends.
“They would kid Bon about coming in from the North Pole,” Miller recalled. “That was the start of everything.” In 1952 Miller set up a store in the North Pole area, which is only 14 miles southeast of Fairbanks.
The rest is history, for while Miller was building his new trading post, a boy who had seen him previously dressed as Santa at Christmas asked him, “Santa Claus, are you building a new house?” Thus, his new store at the North Pole became the Santa Claus House.
The establishment lures visitors to town with live reindeer and Santa Claus himself available for photos year-round. Inside the store, according to a press release, is “7,000 square feet of toys, music boxes, Christmas tree ornaments, Santa-faced china, carved igloos, and yuletide knickknacks of all kinds.”
Tucked away in the southwest corner of Missouri is the beautiful community of Noel, population 1,480. Slow down when you visit, so that you can appreciate what you see in the town known as “Christmas City.”
In 1886 a merchant named Thomas A. Marshall operated a general store about a mile north of the center of town. He was appointed postmaster and was asked by the government to recommend a name for the new post office. Marshall was going to suggest that the postal district be called Cedar Grove, but discovered there was already a town in Missouri with that name.
Finally, it was suggested the town be called Noel, in honor of Uncle Bridge Noel, an area settler. Marshall sent that name along to Washington. It was accepted, and Noel, Missouri, became a reality.
Today Noel is a major Ozark tourist center. It has won national fame for its unsurpassed scenery, fine resorts, outstanding caves, fishing, and summer recreational activities. But most of all, it is famous for its “Christmas City” postmark.
In 1930 the town’s postmaster proposed the idea of sending cards and letters through Noel so that they could be postmarked there. Today more than 500,000 Christmas cards, many of them in bundles, are received annually at the Noel post office. This flood of yuletide mail comes from all 50 states and Canada, Mexico, and Europe. Local volunteers, working in the post office lobby, stamp each envelope with a special “Noel, The Christmas City” greeting.
If you would like to have your holiday mail postmarked at the Noel post office, send your material (with postage affixed) to the Noel Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 173, Noel, MO 64854. There is no charge for this service, but it is requested that you use it only for personal Christmas cards, and not for packages, extremely large quantities of cards, or for business purposes. For more information, contact the Noel Area Chamber of Commerce at (417) 475-6339.
Most American towns do not have Christmas names. Those that do offer a constant reminder of the holiday spirit. No matter where we travel “” or where we live most of the time “” let us keep Christmas in our hearts all year long.