Two of the biggest holidays of the year are Halloween and Christmas. Halloween is normally a one-night event with kids going out trick-or-treating, followed by adults dressing up in their own costumes and going to a club or a party. Christmas, on the other hand, is a bit longer of a celebration with most people decorating their houses around the middle to the end November and leaving the decorations up until the New Year.
Imagine if there was a place that celebrated Halloween for a whole month, with the entire town decorated to match a popular Halloween-themed movie. Now imagine a town that celebrates Christmas all year long, with holiday-themed street names, and with an actual Santa Claus living there. Well you don’t have to imagine much longer, because these places actually exist.
St. Helens, Oregon is home to the “Spirit of Halloweentown” festival, which is a month-long Halloween celebration inspired by the movie Halloweentown. And North Pole, Alaska (yes, that’s the actual name of the town) is a small city that celebrates Christmas 365 days a year. Let’s talk about these two unbelievable places that are known for their incredible dedication and celebrations of two of the biggest holidays of the year.
Halloweentown In St. Helens, Oregon
The small city of St. Helens, Oregon is the actual place where the movie Halloweentown was filmed in 1997. This family movie is about a young girl named Marnie (played by Kimberly J. Brown) who, after learning that she is a witch, helps to save a town that is inhabited by supernatural creatures. Marnie’s grandmother, Aggie Cromwell, is played by the talented Debbie Reynolds.
Each year since the filming of the movie happened, the city of St. Helens has a month-long celebration during the month of October called “Spirit of Halloweentown” that attracts families from all around who visit the Halloween-themed festival. They decorate the city to replicate the movie that was filmed there with countless attractions for visitors and tourists. There is even the huge jack-o-lantern in front of the courthouse that has its own lighting ceremony every year – exactly the same scene as the movie.
Some of the many attractions include bonfires, costume contests for people and their pets, parades, live music, a pumpkin carving contest, giant scarecrows, and much, much more. Kimberly J. Brown, who played Marnie in the movie, has even made special appearances at the festival. This is definitely a fun tourist destination for the entire family that attracts many people who want to experience the real life Halloweentown.
North Pole, Alaska
For those who love Christmas, North Pole, Alaska is definitely the place to be. North Pole is a small city in the Fairbanks North Star Borough in Alaska and has a very small population of just over 2,000 people who live there. North Pole is located 14 miles southeast of Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway and is 386 miles north of Anchorage. The city of North Pole is known for their theme of “Where the spirit of Christmas lives year round.”
Their weather is certainly ideal for the home of Santa Claus, as they have a yearly average snowfall amount of 62 inches. Their maximum daily temperature can get as high as 92 degrees Fahrenheit, while their minimum daily temperature can get as low as -65 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summer solstice, North Pole gets a maximum amount of 21.3 hours of daylight each day, while the minimum amount of daylight hours during the winter solstice has just 3.3 hours of light.
Many of the streets in North Pole are Christmas-themed, such as Santa Claus Lane, Snowman Lane, Mistletoe Drive, Kris Kringle Drive, Saint Nicholas Drive, North Star Drive, Holiday Road, and Blitzen Drive, just to name a few. Several of the buildings around the city are painted in Christmas colors with holiday designs, while the street lights are decked out with candy cane patterns. Ambulances are a bright red color, while the police cars are painted green and white.
There are four public schools located in North Pole and they are called: North Pole Elementary School, North Pole Middle School, North Pole High School, and Star of the North, which is for students in grades 7 to 12. There is also a North Pole Branch Library located in the area as well.
Each year during the beginning of the holiday season, the city celebrates with a Winter Festival, which includes a fireworks display, ice carving festival, tree lighting, and a candle lighting ceremony. Another interesting fact is that each December, the post office receives hundreds of thousands of letters addressed to Santa Claus and amazingly enough, each letter gets read.
The Santa Clause House
And of course, we can’t forget about the “Santa Claus House,” which is the official home of Santa Claus. He greets people who visit the location, where there are even actual living reindeer as well. Visitors can take pictures with Santa Claus at his home all year long. The Santa Claus House is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Alaska and has received millions of visitors from all around the world.
When the Santa Claus House was first built in 1952, it was originally a post office and a place where people could buy their groceries. It stayed that way for nearly twenty years under the ownership of Con and Nellie Miller. In 1972, the state rerouted the Richardson Highway, which completely bypassed the Santa Claus House’s location; therefore, the Millers built a new store along the new highway which is where it remains to this very day. Con Miller served as the longest-serving mayor in North Pole for 19 years and his wife Nellie was the Marriage Commissioner, marrying thousands of people at the Santa Claus House.
Several years later, there was a new wing built to the original Santa Claus House. In addition, they brought in a huge 42-foot tall, 900 pound, three-dimensional Santa Claus statue which is located right outside of the house. The statue was originally built in the 1960s by a man named Wes Stanley. Con Miller then purchased the statue in 1978 for $4,500. The statue was delivered on a truck and was disassembled into four pieces so it could fit underneath the overpass on Parks Highway on the way to North Pole. However, when the statue finally made its way to its final destination, he discovered that it had been damaged during the trip. After a lot of repairs were made to the statue, it was finally able to stand tall in front of Santa Claus House in 1983. The huge Santa Claus statue has been widely recognized by newspapers and television programs from around the world.
North Pole’s Santa Claus
North Pole even has its very own Santa Claus. He was born in Washington, DC with the name Thomas O’Connor and he looks exactly the same way that we believe Santa Claus should look, with the long white beard and jolly cheeks. In fact, he looks so much like Santa Claus that he even legally changed his name to precisely that in 2005 while he was living in Nevada. He was inspired to change his name after a man in a passing vehicle yelled out of the car window at him, saying “Santa, I love you.”
Prior to moving to Alaska, he was a two-time presidential candidate, a former New York police official, an erstwhile emergency response chaplain, a children’s rights advocate, an international peace prize winner, and even a medical marijuana proponent. He’s also an Anglican monk with socialist political leanings. And in 2015, while living in North Pole, he was elected as a city council member.
In an interview with the Washington Post, he told them that every December he dresses up in a Santa suit and invites children to sit on his lap to tell him what they wish to have for Christmas. When the kids begin to tell him what they want for Christmas, he immediately cuts them off by stating “I’ll say, ‘Whoa, wait a second. Before you tell me what you want, I want to know what you’re going to give to someone else.’” He laughs and continues by saying “I’m a little bit of a different kind of Santa Claus up here.”
Other Places To Visit in North Pole
There are many other places to visit while touring North Pole and listed below are just a few of those incredible attractions…
Chena Lakes Recreation Area is near North Pole and has 80 campsites, and includes a swimming beach and paved bike trails. You can also rent a canoe to go on Chena Lake and fish for arctic char, grayling, and rainbow trout.
Just outside of North Pole is a totem pole and an exact replica of a homesteader cabin. And near the City Hall is the half-mile Beaver Spring Nature Trail that lets you travel through a forest on the way to North Pole Park.
If you happen to be in North Pole in August, you can check out the “Cruising with Santa Festival” which features tons of classic and vintage cars, as well as hot rods. You can also enjoy drive-in movies, live entertainment, and a street dance.
The Hotel North Pole is a 71-unit lodge for travellers to stay at, and is conveniently located adjacent to the North Pole Plaza Shopping Center as well as several restaurants. As a matter of fact, North Pole has been recognized for its great restaurants and was even featured on the Food Network’s show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives in 2009. It is also an ideal location for those who love boating and fishing as it’s close to the Salcha River and Chena Lakes.