America’s Christmas Hometown
As kids we loved (or hated-JK) having our parents take us to see Santa Claus.
Our 5-year-old selves tried so hard to memorize all the toys we wanted Santa to bring us on Christmas. Usually, if we were lucky, we would blurt maybe one thing that was on our list.
Love him or hate him, Santa is synonymous with the holidays.
Santa Claus history
With Santa’s origins traced back to 1822 from a Christmas poem Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, penned for his daughters.
The poem, known now as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” was the inspiration for political cartoonist Thomas Nast’s 1881 creation of is today our modern image of the Jolly Elf, Santa Claus.
We got a jump on the holidays on our van trip to Florida
The end of October may have been a little early to be thinking about Santa Claus, but while on the first leg of our southeastern journey to Florida, our route took us across a corner of Indiana.
On our way towards an overnight stop at friends outside Nashville, JK happened to find a town whose name jumped off the map page – Santa Claus, Indiana!
Kim immediately shouted, “We have to go there!”
Located near the Indiana/Tennessee border, west of Louisville, the town of Santa Claus over the years developed an entire town around this popular Christmas theme.
The legend of Santa Claus town
The town was originally named Sante Fee (sic). But in 1850’s when the town grew large enough to have its own post office, the city founders discovered there was already a town in Indiana with the same name.
Legend has it, the townsfolk were gathered in an old log church one cold and snowy December night to discuss possible new names for their humble settlement. No one could agree on a suitable name for their town.
Suddenly a strong gust of wind blew open the church door. Everyone, including the children said they heard the sound of sleigh bells coming from out in the storm. The children shouted, “Santa Claus!” And the rest is history.
The new town name of Santa Claus, Indiana, was accepted by the United States Post Office Department and the post office was opened May 21, 1856.
Several years later, in 1914, the postmaster of Santa Claus began to write back to all the children who sent their Christmas wish lists to the town hoping Santa would receive them.
Word of this holiday act got to the famous Robert Ripley of Ripley’s “Believe it or Not.” Ripley did a feature on the town and the postmaster, and the letters to Santa Claus began to arrive in massive numbers.
Themed attractions start right here
The town’s Christmas themed popularity began to grow and the world’s first themed attraction, Santa’s Candy Castle, was opened in 1935. The castle was sponsored by the Curtiss Candy Company, inventors and makers of Baby Ruth and Butterfinger candy bars!
Santa Claus Land opened in the fall of 1946 and became the world’s first themed amusement park.
Driving into town, evidence of the heyday of Santa Claus, Indiana is still visible. We’re sure a dusting of snow and colorful Christmas lights would help transform the town streets into festive holiday mode real fast!
America’s Christmas Hometown
There are still a number of Christmas-themed shops and businesses, and Santa-themed celebrations that continue to attract tourist traffic.
We were tickled seeing that most of the street names within the city limits are Christmas themed. There’s “Frosty Lane,” “Comet Boulevard,” “Kringle Circle,” and “North New Year’s Eve Road.”
Sadly, we tried to drive to Christmas Lake, but the holiday lake is off-limits to visitors and now contained within a fancy gated community.
The town also is home to the historic 80-acre Santa Claus Campgrounds and faith-based retreat center. The campground offers cabins and sleeping dorms but does not offer RV camping sites. Nearby Lincoln State Park in Lincoln City offers RV 150 campsites in a forest-like setting. https://www.in.gov/dnr/state-parks/parks-lakes/lincoln-state-park/
Summertime fun as well
The largest and most visible attraction in Santa Claus is the seasonal Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari water park. By the huge parking lots, the park must attract a ton of families during the warm weather months.
The water park was closed when we were there in late October. Driving our van into the empty parking lot felt like we were suddenly in the Chevy Chase comedy film “National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation.”
Of course, JK had to announce out loud that we were the “First ones here! First ones here,” ala Clark Griswold as they arrived at an empty Wally World parking lot.
Other, more traditional Christmas and Santa themed shops are still abundant in town, and most are open year-round.
The Santa Claus Christmas Store and Ornament Shoppe was a delight for the senses, with every possible kind of Christmas souvenir, decoration, and tree ornament imaginable. Oh, did we mention they sell homemade fudge?
Town keeps the “Ho, Ho, Ho!” theme alive
The grocery store chain Holiday Foods, and Santa’s Toys seemed to fit in perfectly.
We ate lunch at Frosty’s Fun Center which, besides putt-putt golf and arcade games serves meals. Hearty soups, chili, and sandwiches are served up in a 50’s style dining room. With the bright red vinyl seats and checkerboard pattern flooring, the dining area could have been design by Santa himself.
We drove to the historic 1935-era Candy Castle, still in business and well known for their delicious frozen hot chocolate and gourmet popcorn but were closed the afternoon we visited.
The Holiday Drive-in is still in operation, (one of the few drive-in movie theaters in the country) and features six screens with regular double features.
As a side note, Santa Claus, Indiana is located in Spencer County, and is home to a state park and a national memorial dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, who spent 14 childhood years in the area.
Santa Claus Police on duty
A stop at Santa Claus Town Hall and the local police department enforced the Santa Claus theme even more.
A towering statue of St. Nick is located within a small plaza right in front of the city hall. The base of the statue offered engraved inspirational messages on all four sides to those who may be missing the true meaning of the holiday.
There is a plaque outside city hall dedicating the small entrance plaza to city visionary and supporter William A. “Bill” Koch. Koch is credited for the development and growth of the town. “He believed in Santa Claus,” the plaque states.
It was fun to see the city’s police patrol cars emblazoned with blue and black Santa heads.
Santa still answers your letters
No visit to Santa Clause, Indiana is complete without stopping for a selfie in front of the post office. A gentleman passing by was kind enough to offer a hand snapping our photo in front of the large Santa statue out front.
Kim spotted real holly bushes loaded with bright red berries used as part of the landscaping in front of the post office.
It’s the only post office in the United States with Santa’s name. Letters and mail still pile into this small, federal government facility each December.
A group of volunteer Santa’s Elves keep the post office’s more than a century-old tradition alive of answering every letter sent into Santa.
Local high school art students get involved as well. Each year the Santa Claus Post Office selects a student-created design as the official picture postmark.
Letters to Santa are encouraged. Mail your letter to: Santa Claus, P.O. Box 1, Santa Claus, IN 47579. Letters need to arrive by December 17, 2022, to ensure a reply by Christmas.
Naturally, the namesake town holds their Santa Claus Christmas Celebration, which takes place during the first three weekends of December.
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, the Santa Claus Christmas Parade, the Santa Claus Land of Lights, and the Santa Claus Arts & Crafts Show are but a few of the events during the Hallmark Christmas movie-like celebration.
And of course, there are several locations in town where kids of all ages can visit with Santa in person before the big day.
We are so glad we took the side trip off the freeway to spend a few hours in Santa Claus, IN. We think it’s awesome, after nearly 166 years, that the town continues to embrace the true spirit of Christmas all year long. Yes, even at the local car wash.
Check out these events and all things Santa-related by clicking here: www.santaclausind.org.
And that, boys, and girls, is how a small town in Indiana was named after Santa Claus.
Ho, Ho, Ho. Merry Christmas to all and to all safe travels!