Finding Christmas cheer
By Carrie Dunlea
Do you need a boost of holiday cheer this year? Sleigh bells ringing, carolers singing, glistening snow and yuletide glow? If that sounds like what you need, there are always opportunities to bring new traditions into the mix. One way is to visit some festively named locales, or some of the most festive cities, across North America.
Santa Claus, Indiana calls itself America’s Christmas Hometown and it truly lives up to the name during the holiday season. The neighborhoods all have a holiday theme name such like Holiday Village and Christmas Lake Village, and streets are all named after the Christmas season.
The town is home to multiple holiday-themed attractions and there are 25 seasonal events for locals and visitors to attend in November and December alone. The activities start in early November with a Meet the Grinch event followed by a big Art and Craft show. Depending on your travel dates, enjoy a three-weekend Santa Claus Christmas Celebration: a town-wide celebration full of festive events for the entire family. To view holiday lights, take a 12-mile drive through the Santa Claus Land of Lights at Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort. If you have children or grandchildren in tow, visit Santa’s Candy Castle during regular business hours where kids can log into the North Pole Network to chat with one of Santa’s elves and earn an official Good List Certificate.
At the historic Santa Claus Church built in 1880, listen as a storyteller brings Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” to life in an interactive performance for the whole family. In addition, there are Christmas carols, storytelling, music, and even the surprising story of how the town of Santa Claus, Indiana, received its name.
Anyone can attend the annual Das Nikolausfest hosted by St. Nicholas Catholic Church. Enjoy German food, fresh baked goods, kid’s activities, live music and entertainment, and a visit from St. Nicholas. Like museums and shopping? Don’t leave town without visiting the Santa Claus Museum and Gift Shop and learn about many of the original town buildings dating back to 1856. Write a letter to Santa any time of year from the town’s first post office and personal replies are mailed back in December. P.O. Box 1, Santa Claus, IN 47579. Learn more at santaclausind.org.
You can’t take Christmas locations without mentioning North Pole, Alaska. Touted as the place “Where the spirit of Christmas lives year-round,” this small town is just a short 20-minute drive from Fairbanks. Visitors can drive along Santa Claus Lane where streetlights are decorated in candy cane motifs. The Santa Claus House is a must-see stop where you can browse holiday-inspired gifts for everyone on your list. Known as the “official” home of Santa Claus,” The Santa Claus House welcomes thousands of people from all over the world. Bring your mail or send letters from Santa to friends and family back home with an authentic North Pole postmark. The Santa Claus House is busy year-round and features live reindeer and an opportunity for a photograph with Santa Claus.
Check out the North Pole’s Christmas in Ice featuring ice sculpting competitions, a playground made out of ice and a variety of holiday themed festivities. This annual event takes place from the end of November through the beginning of January. Learn more at northpolealaska.com.
If you want cold weather a bit closer, check out Christmas, Michigan. This scenic Christmas wonderland is located just nine miles from the shore of Lake Superior in the upper peninsula of the state. This tiny town of 400 residents and businesses embraces the Christmas theme and features a 35-foot tall cutout of Santa Claus. Snowmobiling is a prime activity in the winter. The town got its own post office in 1966 so many residents and people from all over the state bring their postmarked cards and gifts to mail from this location.
While in Michigan make sure you head to Frankenmuth, designated as one of the most Christmassy places in the U.S. It’s also known as Little Bavaria. The town is home to Bronners CHRISTmas Wonderland located at 25 Christmas Lane. It’s the world’s largest Christmas store and it has been around since 1945. The store stocks over 50,000 trims and gifts and Santa makes daily appearances starting in late November. The Silent Night Memorial Chapel is open year-round. In late November through early December the town hosts Christkindlmarket, a Bavarian gift market. Also, on tap are a German Christmas Songfest, Breakfast with Santa and Mrs. Claus, a Holiday Home Tour and so much more. Visit Frankenmuth.org.
If you plan to be in Georgia over the holidays, take the time to visit another town called Santa Claus, except this one is the southern version. This tiny community incorporated in 1941 is located halfway between Macon and Savannah. The town has lamp-post banners featuring an image of St. Nick and streets with names like Candy Cane Road, December Drive, Rudolph Way and Dancer, Prancer and Sleigh streets and the city hall building is located at 25 December Drive.
While the town is too small to have attractions or fancy restaurants, it is known as a place where people come to mail letters at Santa’s official mailbox and take photos with the Santa Claus statue on the town’s welcome sign. The town’s post office stamps “Santa Claus, Georgia,” on its outgoing mail, including Santa letters. Check it out and bring some cards to mail.
While there are many other towns with Christmas-themed names, there are some U.S. cities that embrace the holidays with gusto.
Durango, Colorado is one of them. During the month of December, this mountain town is bustling with activities for all ages. Book one of the 93 unique rooms at the Strater Hotel, built in 1887, in downtown Durango and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Plan ahead and book tickets for the Michael Murphy Christmas Show in the famous Henry Strater Theatre. For the 25th year, this Texan, famous for many songs including “Wildfire,” will take you on a musical journey.
The railroad plays a big part in this old mining town. If you love the Polar Express movie, make reservations for a trip on the Polar Express Train. You can choose your date for anytime now through January 3 and board a train at the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The characters from the movie come to life as the conductor, chefs, hobo, the Hero Boy, Billy, Santa and all the elves are on board the historic steam train. Visitors will hear the story, sing carols, have hot cocoa and a trip they will never forget!
If you’ve always dreamed of taking a train to cut down your Christmas tree, you can do that too. Take the Cascade Canyon Train and cut down your own tree which will be hauled back to Durango on the steam train. Saws are provided, and passengers should dress in warm clothes.
If you want the true Christmas experience, there is nothing better than a sleigh ride. Rapp Corral in Durango offers custom horse drawn sleigh rides in the winter wonderland between Durango and Purgatory Ski Area. Relax and listen to the jingle of sleigh bells in a romantic two-person sleigh or in a larger sleigh with friends and family.
Sometimes a trip can take the holidays from ho hum to fun depending on where you go. This year, explore a place you’ve never been and maybe you’ll find the spirit of Christmas.