Travel through the rolling hills of southern Indiana via I-64 from Louisville, Kentucky, and you will find a town that will bring visions of sugar plums to mind. Although there may not be snow and it might be mid-Spring you will still find plenty of Christmas Spirit. I am writing about the town of Santa Claus, Indiana.
Legend has it that the town was named in 1856 by the town fathers one snowy Christmas Eve. As they stood around the old wood stove pondering what to name it, the sound of sleigh bells could be heard and a yound child in the back of the room exclaimed with glee, "Santa Claus!" In the early 1930s the great Robert Ripley wrote about the town in his "Believe It or Not" articles. The town was building quite a reputation as even by that time children were beginning to write to Santa Claus via the town. Then post master James Martin enlisted the help of Jim Yellig (who would become the Real Santa from Santa Claus) to answer them all. Thus began a tradition that endures unto this day, thanks to Jim's daughter and Holiday World Theme Park owner Pat Koch and her team of helpers.
The town is filled with wonderful sites, all with a Christmas feel to them. Up on the hill overlooking the town is a statue of Santa dating back to 1935 and dedicated to "the children of the World." A smaller version is in front of city hall. Just below and around the corner stands Santa's Candy Castle and the remains of the first themed attraction in the World. The Castle was the place to be for Christmas in the 1930s as individual toy companies would rent space and would allow children to play with prototypes of their products. Each had a small building of their own. Families with little money would make the trek so their children could play and could also see Santa himself (by the late 1930s played by Jim Yellig) in his workshop. In 1937 legendary Santa School creator Charles W. Howard held classes in the rotunda of the castle. The meeting of Yellig and Howard at this event is a momentous occasion in the history of professional Santahood. Today the rotunda is home to the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame.
Back towards the modern town you will come to Holiday World and Splashin Safari, which opened in 1946 as Santa Claus Land. From the opening of this park until his death in 1984 Santa Jim Yellig is said to have had over two million children on his knee as he greeted children all year long. Today the park has grown from just a Christmas land to incorporate Thanksgiving, Halloween, and July Fourth. It is the home of three of the World's best wooden coasters and the tallest water ride. This award winning park is a wonderful place to bring the entire family.
Throughout the town you will find places named for Christmas. You can stay at Santa's Lodge, shop at Holiday Foods, visit Kringle Place, camp at Lake Rudolph, and even golf on Christmas Lake. You can attend Church at Saint Nicholas Catholic. Streets are named with Christmas themes. There is a Christmas store open year round, a wonderful museum, and in December there is a Christmas festival. But Santa can be seen throughout the year.
If you are a Christmas fanatic or just enjoy visiting friendly places with friendly faces and find yourself in the area, stop in and look around. It is truly a treasure.