This article was in the Philadelphia Inquiere on Sunday December 2, 2007
North Pole, Alaska: Santa Central
North Pole, Alaska- its early December here, and Mr and Mrs Claus are certainly busy
For starters, there are all those visitors who have dropped by their spacious White and red house to sit on Santa's lap and tell him exactly what they want for Christmas
In the back, the elves - including dozens of extra little hands hired for the season - are rushing to get thousands of personalized "letters from Santa" delivered to the local post office
Outside in temperatures that have already dipped below zero, four of Santa's redindeer are taking i t all lying down in their pen, seemingly oblivius to the all night mission they will once again be asked to fly in just a few weeks
This is not the North Pole, of course, but the interior Alaskan commu nity of the same name, 14 miles south of Fairbanks at 64.5 degrees north latitude - just south of the Arctic Circle. Not surprisingly, holiday banners, candy cane street signs, and other Christmas themed decorations remain up throughout the year
And the star attraction in this low slung community of about 1,800 is the rambling, 55 year old emporium at 101 St. Nicholas Drive known far and wide as the Santa Claus House.
Like most of North Pole's 100,000 annual visitors, my wife and I and our 5 year old twin daughters came to visit the Clauses during the summer - in our case, over the Labor Day weekend, when more than just a hint of snow already hung in the gray northern sky
We had no trouble finding it, not with the world's largest Santa statue (42 feete tall and weighting 900 pounds) standing sentinel outside and an equally supersized two dimensional image posing next to a 30 foot tall, red and white striped North Pole
Having already stocked up on t-shirts, stuffed animals, and other standard Alaska themed merchandise at previous stops, we by passed those items for the much larger Christmas Shoppe in back. Just as the promotional materials promise, it is indeed "Christmas every day" Carols drifted through the air, white White Christmas, the 1954 Bing Crosby/Danny Kaye movie, plays continuously on an elevated TV monitors
We had scarcely begun surveying row upon row of holiday merchandise, including some distinctly Alaskan items - Eskimo nativity sets, beaver-pelt pillows, and birch bowls - when the jingle of sleigh bells heralded the return of the jolly old homeowner himself, back from a coffee break
Attired in his traditional white trimmed plush red suit, he climbed into his equally plush chair, and our girls, suddenly stricken with shyness, were his first photo op customers ( $5.00 with their camera, free with ours)
They were followed by a German couple in their 60's who could not quite make up their minds how seriously to take this distinctly American encounter, and two 30 something newlyweds from California who were a little shy about telling the old married man exactly what they wanted
Any hopes Santa might have had for an afternoon nap wet up the chimney with the arrival of a bus full of post cruise seniors from Minnesota who had few qualms about either plopping onto his lap (mostly the women) or standing alongside (mostly the men)
While the grandparents dashed off their just bought postcards so they could be stamped Santa's Officical Mal" and placed orders for the Santa Claus House's trademark Letter from Santa, we slipped outside to check on Dasher, Blitzen, Coment and Cupid.
None of the four domesticated caribou looked the least bit flightworthy, but then they still had four months to get in shape, or so we explained to our daughters.
Placards attached to spruce trees explained the historical orgigins of such Christmas traditions as the 12 days of Christmas, the Candy Cane and the Christmas tree. unexpected notes of serious religion in an otherwise constant chorus of commercialism
If nothing else, the Santa Claus house comes by its commercialism honestly
Situated along a marshy creek known as 14 mile Slough. the site was homesteaded in 1944 by Bon Davis, who named the soon to be established whistle stop on the Alaska Railroad for himself
The development company that bought out Davis renamed the settlement North Pole, to attract a toy manufacturer that could label its products Made at the North Pole
But given North Pole's high shipping costs and shallow labor pool, no toy manufacturer ever materialized.
But Conrad and Nellie Miller, honesteaders from Washington state who had settled in Fairbanks in 1949 with only $1.40 to their names, did
Miller, a traveling fur trader who had taken to dressing up as Santa Claus when calling on native villages in the winter, decided that North Pole, sitting between 2 growing military bases, would be the site of his own permanent trading post.
As the company story goes, Miller was building a wall one day in 1952 when he was recognized by one of the native children he had visited, "Hey Santa Claus," the boy called, "are you building a new hours?"
It was a marketing match made in frontier Alaska, and Miller promply ran it up the North Pole. A half century later, and thanks to quantum leaps in transportation and communication (especially the Internet), plus the 1983 arrival of the fiberglass Santa, who started off life as a prototype for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, the Santa Claus House is an insitution, securely in the hands of the Miller children
Toting some truly unique early Chrismtas gifts, we repaired to our rental sleigh and headed back to Fairbanks. As we drove North out of North Pole, I couldn't help but marvel at the resourcefulness and determination of those territorial pioneers, and ponder the ultimate mystery of the Santa Claus House
If every day here really is Christmas, when do they hold their After Christmas Sale?
North Pold, Alaska, is on the Richardson Highway (State Route 2), 14 miles south of Fairbanks and 359 miles north of Anchorage
The Santa Claus House
101 St. Nicholas Dr.
North Pole, Alaska 99705
Open 8am to 8pm, during the heart of the tourist season
(late May to mid September)
with reduced hours the rest of the year
Mr and Mrs Claus, however, are only at home Wednesday through Sunday
Closed Christmas Day, naturally, and the 3 days afterward
Presumably to give the Clauses a well deserved break.
Or you can call the Fairbanks Visitor and Convention Bureau
What a wonderful place, if your looking for a Christmas Fantasy Trip