Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
From Snowflake, Arizona, to Santa Claus, Indiana, these are places where it’s Christmas 365 days a year.
Dusted with snow, Santa’s Candy Castle looks like a massive gingerbread house sprinkled with powdered sugar. The brick turrets are lined with red trim, like piped icing. The confectionary shop is one of many outposts in Santa Claus, Indiana, that dials up Christmas cheer all year long.
The town—originally Santa Fe, or maybe Santa Fee—changed its name in the 1850s after losing out on its bid for a post office. (Turns out, the name had already been claimed.) The Indy Star newspaper notes that the town eventually decided to go all in to capitalize on its new name. In 1935, it debuted a 40-ton Santa statue. Then, over the years, it rolled out the Lake Rudolph Campground, Christmas Lake Golf Course, and a restaurant named Frosty’s.
They got their post office, and it’s been working hard ever since. Many kids’ letters to Santa end up there. Locals clock in shifts as elves with sharp secretarial skills. Over the past century, the town has received nearly a million notes; around 250 of them have been compiled into a new book.
Across the U.S., other towns also have wintry monikers. Take Snowflake, Arizona, or Evergreen, Alabama, or Dasher, Georgia. We mapped a handful, below:
Some of these merrily-named towns are populated by people deeply (weirdly?) committed to spreading holiday cheer. In North Pole, Alaska, for instance, a city councilman legally changed his name to Santa Claus. The streetlights are ribboned with red paint to create the effect of oversized, glowing candy canes. Each holiday season, there’s an outdoor ice park with frozen slides and a glassy maze.
In other towns, the festive element was less intentional. Rudolph, Wisconsin, for example, wasn’t named after the famed reindeer, but after Rudolph Hecox, the son of one of the town’s founders. But when the reindeer’s tale was released in 1939, the town hitched a ride to the story. The animal’s bright red schnoz graces street signs, and, each Christmas, a commemorative postmark.