DPA PICTURE ALLIANCE/ALAMY
For some, Christmas is less a season than it is a state of mind. You know who you are. Your toes tingle at the sight of tinsel. You are the one standing in the dairy aisle when the stock boys unload the first crates of eggnog in late November. For you, Boxing Day, on Dec. 26, is a day of mourning.
If only you could make that yuletide joy last after the lights have come down and the tree is lying sadly by the curb. If only there were places where the spirit of St. Nick lives on through the spring and into the summer and the fall. If only there were places where it never ended.
Happily, there are! Here are six of them.
Santa Claus, Ind.
Legend has it that this tiny town in southwestern Indiana took on Christmas’ most familiar name in the 1850s, when the U.S. Post Office rejected its original name of Santa Fe. At some point in the early 20th century, mail began piling up at the Santa Claus Post Office during the holiday season. Everyone wanted that precious postmark on their cards and packages. America being what it is, the moneymakers then stepped in. A lawyer from nearby Vincennes set up a souvenir shop for the decorative sleighs he made. Toy manufacturers and a candymaker moved into what was dubbed Santa’s Candy Castle. A 40-ton statue of Santa Claus went up in an overlook on the edge of town, and an Evansville industrialist set up the Santa Claus Land theme park on 260 acres of rolling farmland nearby (now known as Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, a full-blown alpine amusement park). Outside the park, there is a Santa Claus Museum, a winery and a year-round Christmas store. There’s even a Christmas Lake Village residential area where all the streets have holiday-related names.
Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Just outside the northern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge survived the vicious wildfires — which engulfed nearby Gatlinburg in 2016 — relatively unscathed. Dollywood is still intact, as are the dozens of miniature golf courses, go-kart tracks and country music venues. Also still standing, thankfully, is the Incredible Christmas Place, the largest permanent Christmas retailer in the South and the epicenter of Pigeon Forge’s holiday industrial complex. What began as a small gift shop in 1986 has morphed into the ultimate Christmas emporium, with 43,000 square feet of retail space offering everything from personalized ornaments and lights to garlands and nativity scenes. Santa is in residence year-round, of course.
North Pole, Alaska
Does it matter that a town calls itself North Pole even though it’s 1,700 miles from the real thing? Apparently not, as this town outside Fairbanks has come to know. The town’s founders had hoped the name, officially changed in 1949, would attract a toy manufacturer eager to claim that its products were made at the North Pole. Alas, those dreams never materialized. The locals have done their best to keep the dream alive, however, leaving up the Christmas decorations year-round, festooning everything in red and white stripes, naming most of the streets in the holiday theme and erecting a massive Santa Claus House retail outlet with a 42-foot fiberglass statue of St. Nick, who's covered with letters from good little boys and girls from around the world.
BRONNERS CHRISTMAS WONDERLAND
Something about the Bavarian architecture and heritage of this farming town about 100 miles north of Detroitscreams Christmas, and city fathers have embraced the connection with gusto. Home of the world’s largest Christmas store, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, Frankenmuth goes all out across town for the holiday itself — but the spirit lives on year-round at this massive retail center. More than 3 million people a year make their way down the half-mile Christmas Lane, with its 50,000 lights and dozens of themed storefronts. Ironically, Christmas Day is one of only six days each year that the establishment is actually closed.
Danish farmers settled the area around Solvang in the early 20th century, in part to escape the harsh winters they had experienced in the Midwest. What they built in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Valley is the closest thing one can get to a provincial Danish village without crossing the Atlantic. The facades and buildings of the bakeries, restaurants and merchants along Copenhagen Drive are all done up in the half-timbered style of the old country. Much of the Christmas action in Solvang revolves around the holidays themselves (“Julefest” in local parlance), but the vibe lasts throughout the year.
Another town that clings to its northern European roots (Germanic, in this case) for a good cause, Bethlehem has the added benefit of genuine Christmas roots (it was founded on Christmas Eve in 1741) and impeccable branding in the form of a giant LED star that lures visitors from atop South Mountain. December brings an annual Christmas market, lots of lights and crèches in houses and churches across the city. The star of Bethlehem, though, burns year-round.