Where every day is Christmas

The streets have names like Candy Cane Lane, Christmas Boulevard and Mistletoe Drive.

Bigger-than-life statues of Old Saint Nick and red buildings with green roofs are everywhere.

And the Christmas tree in the lobby at Santa’s Lodge hotel is never taken down.

Welcome to Santa Claus, Ind.

There’s the Silent Night CafĂ©, Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Resort, Frosty’s Fun Center Miniature Golf and Arcade and Santa’s Medical Center.

And Crystal Buehler, general curator at the Santa Claus Museum, plays Christmas music year-round.

Every day is Christmas Day in this Southern Indiana burg of 2,200 – a number that has more than doubled since 1990.

“The town oozes holiday spirit,” describes Melissa Miller, executive director of the Spencer County Visitors Bureau. “There are no grinches here.”

Especially now, when residents and businesses put on their holiday best. On Saturday and Sunday , the village stages its annual “Christmas in Santa Claus Festival,” highlighted by Santa’s horse-drawn sleigh ride and parade and a free, 15-mile auto tour through the 12 holiday-themed and lighted neighborhoods of Christmas Lake Village, where many of the town’s residents live.

Settled more than 150 years ago by German immigrants the settlement originally was known as Santa Fe (spelled Santa Fee). But when the town of about 50 applied for a post office in 1856, it had to change its name because there already was a Santa Fe, northeast of Kokomo.

Now, just how the townsfolk settled on the name of Santa Claus has been lost to legend. But the tale Buehler prefers to recite is the one about the town meeting to choose a new name on Christmas Eve in a one-room log church. Allegedly, a brisk winter’s wind blew the door open, and the sound of sleigh bells was heard in the distance. An excited little girl shouted, “It’s Santa Claus!”

Santa Claus, Ind.? Has a nice ring, doesn’t it? Summit over.

Now at its fourth location at the north end of the Kringle Place mall, the world’s only post office bearing the name of Santa Claus receives more than a half-million pieces of mail a year – about 10,000 of them from children addressed to Santa and the rest from adults wanting the Santa Claus, Ind., postmark on their Christmas cards. Every year since postmaster general James Martin did it in 1914, volunteers (they call themselves Santa’s elves) have sent hand-written replies from Santa to the children.

According to postmaster Marina Balbach, the post office usually gets about 13,000 pieces a month.”We do more than that each day during the Christmas season,” she said.

The post-office’s claim to fame has not been without controversy. In 1931, U.S. postmaster Walter F. Brown attempted to force the town to give up its name to ease the load of the mail the post office received around Christmas. But with the support of Robert “Believe It or Not” Ripley, who sent Brown a four-foot wide postcard carrying the Santa Claus post office cancellation, and the Indianapolis News, which asked its readers to send letters of protest to the paper, Santa Claus was saved.

Newspaper clippings chronicling the controversy, plus photos, memorabilia and letters to Santa dating back to the 1930s, fill the Santa Claus Museum, two doors down from the post office. Exhibits in five rooms detail the history of the town and its post office and the evolution of Santa Claus Land to today’s award-winning Holiday World, which draws a million customers a year. There’s a table for children to use to write their letters to Santa.

Visitors approaching the town from the north (Indiana 162 off I-64) will first notice the massive Holiday World complex and its famous wooden coasters dominating the skyline to the west.

Take a right at the junction of Ind. 162 and 245 to follow Christmas Boulevard into town. Veer slightly to the left on 245 and travel a one-tenth mile to the town’s original 22-foot-high Santa statue, dedicated “to the children of the world” in 1935.

The statue sits on a base in the shape of a star, symbolic of the star of Bethlehem. The 40-ton statue is faded and crumbling. A glossy fiberglass replica stands in front of the new Santa Claus Town Hall.

Continue south on Ind. 245 for about a half mile past the old statue to the site of the original downtown Santa Claus, where Santa’s Candy Castle is located. The original Candy Castle, dedicated on Dec. 22, 1935, was one of several buildings in Santa Claus Town, purported to be the nation’s first theme park. Kevin Klosowski restored and re-opened the candy shop and its museum in 2005. The candy shop claims to have the world’s largest selection of candy canes.

The 35-year-old entrepreneur says he “dropped out of corporate America in Chicago” to rebuild and preserve Santa Claus Town, with plans to recreate the Toy Village and Santa’s Workshop for a “whole new generation.”

“I love it here,” said Klosowski. “It’s quiet. It’s safe. It’s friendly. I have three kids 7, 5 and 2 and I have a choice of two four-star schools they can go to. I love the family values here.”

No grinches either.

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