Santa's Alaskan home

By Paul Rush

Santa Claus House in Alaska has been a major tourist destination for more than half a century. Photo / Creative Commons image by Rosie Rosenberger
Santa Claus House in Alaska has been a major tourist destination for more than half a century. Photo / Creative Commons image by Rosie Rosenberger

It's decision time. Boys and girls worldwide need to hurriedly decide what they really want for Christmas, so they can send their Santa wish lists soon, so the hardworking elves won't be rushed off their tiny feet.

Every December the North Pole Post Office in Alaska, receives a two-metre-high stack of mail daily, totalling more than 400,000 last year. Yes, North Pole is real. It's a 15-minute drive southeast of Fairbanks, the main inland town in Alaska, just below the Arctic Circle.

The "fairytale come true" story of North Pole and the Santa Claus House evolved in the 1940s. The town fathers of a tiny crossroads community were mulling over bright ideas for their town. They felt the existing name, Mosquito Junction, lacked appeal and set residents the task of finding a new one.

North Pole got the nod because the town sat on the edge of civilisation and it was hoped a toy manufacturer could be enticed to town to bolster the local economic plans.

Street names were chosen with great care: Kris Kringle Drive, Mistletoe Lane and St Nicholas Drive.

Today residents' homes are decorated in a year-round Christmas theme. The local church implores: "Beat the Christmas rush, come to church this Sunday."

You can stay at Santaland RV Park and do your washing at Santa's Suds Laundromat. In December, radio and TV stations around the world call City Hall, checking the local temperature, weather and if Santa is still in residence.

Santa Claus House on St Nicholas Drive is a sprawling gift store overflowing with Christmas ornaments, toys and a jolly fellow hearing children's wishes. A candy-striped post denotes the actual "North Pole" and a giant 12m high Santa statue towers over the complex. A free shuttle picks up visitors from hotels and RV parks.

Owners Con and Nellie Miller, first arrived in Fairbanks in 1949 with two hungry children and $1.40 in their pockets.

They started from scratch as merchants and fur buyers, and when Christmas came around Con found an old Santa suit and earned celebrity status as Saint Nick himself.

One day in 1952 Con was busy on his new trading store when a young boy quipped: "Hello Santa are you building a new house?"

The chance remark inspired Con to call his store Santa Claus House and it's been bringing endless pleasure to visitors ever since.

Among the Santa House toys and trinkets you can buy personalised letters from Santa with the recipient's name, photo postcards of Mr and Mrs Claus and you can even purchase a title deed to a "square inch of North Pole land". By virtue of this quasi-legal document I'm the proud owner of Lot 35, Block 2544 of the Santa Claus subdivision, North Pole.

Over the Christmas season, the North Pole's 1600 residents decorate their homes with extra lights, creating a magical scene amid the soft blanket of snow. The wish lists from the world's toy-hungry children are entertaining. Some examples:

"Dear Santa, my mum has been great this year, so I would like you to send her a man. Love Mima."

"Dear Santa, I would like a living dog or a mobile phone, whichever is easiest. Love Gabrielle."

"Dear Santa, don't send my sister pressies cause she's been bad. I'm leaving you cheese and cookies. Love Gracelin."

There's something uplifting about visiting a place that celebrates Christmas every day of the year. To keep the festive spirit alive when you return home, the Santa Claus House has a range of letters from Santa, all personalised with the recipient's name and mailed to arrive in time for Christmas.

Santa's letter says in part, "I check my Good List often, and today I notice you are already near the top.

"This makes Mrs Santa and I very proud and brings a smile to my face. Keep up the good work!" Masterful marketing and kid-friendly too. Ho ho ho.

Paul Rush travelled to North Pole with assistance from Adventure World and Andersons Vacations.

- Herald on Sunday

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