This has been the best Christmas season for me in more than 30 years and for that I think I have Santa Claus to thank.
You see, I spent three days this summer getting to know Santa Claus. I’d seen Santa Claus before, but just for a quick reportorial glimpse. This year I had a good long look. I became friendly with Santa Claus and I discovered just how wonderful Santa Claus can be.
Of course, I’m not talking about the rotund individual with higher Q ratings than popes, president-elects or do-gooder American Idol champs.
I’m talking about the town, not the individual.
Santa Claus, Indiana, 47579.
The small town is just north of the Ohio River and just a couple miles from the Spencer County boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln.
I’ve known about Santa Claus since about 1996 when I did a crackerjack on-site investigation of the town for National Enquirer.
I wrote about how the tiny town of just 1,800 or so merry souls goes crazy for Christmas every day of the year. Residents live on streets named Mistletoe Drive, Candy Cane Lane and Arctic Circle. It has the magnificent Holiday World amusement park themed to celebrate the seasons.
The Santa Claus, Indiana, post office goes from handling about 3,000 letters a day to more than 50,000 with more than 500,000 gaining the “Santa Claus, Ind.,” postmark throughout the season.
As there hadn’t been much press on the town up to then, the story became a minor national sensation with wire story follow-ups and various TV shows doing cheerful segments on the midwest Santa Claus.
I followed up with travel stories and a couple of stories about the Christmas Lake Golf Course there (feature writers, take note: lots of great year-round stories there). But it wasn’t until this year that I finally accepted yearly invitations to return to learn more about Santa Claus.
I think we’re going to go back every year now.
It was that wonderful.
We stayed at Santa’s Lodge and immersed ourselves in Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari. It instantly became our favorite amusement park. Three of its rollercoasters have been rated by Amusement Today magazine as being in the world’s top 12 with The Voyager being no. 1.
Think Santa Claus is just generous at Christmas? Think again.
At Holiday World, they give away for free all day all the soft drinks you can guzzle. No catch. If you’re so inclined, you can drink large Pepsi or Mountain Dew until your teeth rot right out of your gums.
In a day when we’re gouged $1.50 for bottles of tepid water and $4.50 for single servings of ballpark pop, the gesture staggered us. Park spokeswoman Paula Werne said other guests are just as thunderstruck by the new policy. “After we started giving away free soda, the number of petty service-related complaints dropped to zero,” she said. “People are just thrilled they can enjoy a refreshing Pepsi product for free.”
It’s amazing. They do the same with SPF 30 sun screen. Unattended lotion and soda oasises are scattered liberally throughout the park.
As someone who’s been steadily trending toward curmudgeon bordering on crank ever since he turned 12, I didn’t think there’d be much that would lurch me back toward the ranks of the cuddly sentimentalists.
But this Christmas season has been a joy. I haven’t had one episode of snarling rage over crass commercialism, traffic or rampant greed.
Maybe it’s my own darling family. Josie’s 8 and has been angelic throughout the holidays, my ever-tolerant and lovely wife’s been wonderful and -- speaking of Christmas miracles -- little Lucinda, 2, is beginning to embrace the first stumbling specifics of potty training. Dirty diapers may soon be a memory.
But, honest, I think Santa Claus had something to do with it. It was such a wonderful visit. The people were so kind and friendly and watching so many happy families left a joyful impression that lingers still.
We’re planning on going back. This year’s the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth so a visit to Spencer County offers a great historic two-fer, Honest Abe and St. Nick.
Thanks for reading the blog. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. If you or your loved ones are having trouble finding the holiday spirit in your hearts, you might want to try looking in southern Indiana.
That’s where you’ll find Santa Claus.
Causes Chris Rodell Supports
Democratic National Committee, UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, Sierra Club, Smile Train, Salvation Army