Kids everywhere are bursting with excitement because Santa Claus is comin' to town, but in southern Indiana, Santa Claus IS a town.
Forget about 12 days of Christmas. Santa Claus celebrates 12 months of Christmas, but when December rolls around, this tiny, Christmas-themed community really ramps up the wow factor with a holiday extravaganza of family events, light displays and, of course, visits with the jolly guy in the red suit that is the town's namesake.
The population of this rural community is less than 2,500, but its post office receives up to 15,000 letters addressed to Santa Claus every year. Thanks to Santa's Elves, a nonprofit volunteer organization headquartered at Santa Claus Museum and Village, each child's letter is answered.
The original Santa Claus post office, built in 1856, was recently restored and moved to the museum grounds. Young visitors sit at antique school desks in this nonoperational post office and write Santa about what they hope to find under the Christmas tree. All letters get a special Santa Claus postmark.
The museum tells the story of how Santa Claus got its name and became a popular tourist destination.
Land of Lights
It would be a blue Christmas without twinkling lights to brighten the season, so take the family on a mile-long drive through Santa Claus Land of Lights at Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Resort. Here, the Shining Story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is told through illuminated displays. Driving slowly through a tunnel of multi-colored lights is like floating through an ethereal Christmas rainbow. On the other end are towering, brilliantly lit scenes illustrating how the world's most famous reindeer learned to guide Santa's sleigh.
Those needing a break from the hectic pace of Christmas time in the city can spend a stress-free weekend in one of Rudolph's Christmas cabins on the campground. The Norman Rockwell-like ambience of a rustic cabin nestled in a quiet wooded setting captures the nostalgia of Christmas past.
Santa's Candy Castle
When Chicago accountant Kevin Klosowski bought and renovated historic Santa's Candy Castle six years ago, he reinvented himself as a sort of a real-life Willie Wonka — minus the crazy outfit. He says he has “the greatest job in the world.”
Klosowski doesn't have a chocolate factory, but his vast selection of chocolate confections makes it easy to imagine that he does.
Like Willie Wonka, Klosowski also features candy in an enticing array of wacky flavors. Cookie dough flavored salt water taffy and tart, pucker-inducing green apple popcorn are a couple of his more exotic offerings.
Any kid knows Santa only delivers goodies to good little girls and boys, and at the castle's North Pole Network, they can chat with an elf on a computer to find out if they have made the “good” list.
Santa's Candy Castle is really much more than a candy store. It was a popular tourist attraction in the 1930s, but its existence today is a bit of a Christmas miracle — one that can be attributed to Klosowski.
Decades before Americans had heard of a theme park, plans were under way for “Santa Claus Town,” a themed attraction where the joy of Christmas would live year round. Santa's Candy Castle was the first building constructed on the property and opened to great fanfare during the Christmas season of 1935, a time when many Americans were feeling the relentless sting of the Great Depression.
The castle's Toy Village provided children a fairytale-like setting to play with expensive toys their financially strapped families couldn't afford. Since nothing was for sale, there was no pressure for parents to purchase the toys.
World War II changed everything. Gasoline and tire rationing slowed tourism to a trickle, and toy sponsors pulled out as they put their resources into making war supplies instead of toys.
Santa's Candy Castle, which opened with such great promise, sat empty and forgotten. Attempts to reopen it floundered, and by the 1970s, it appeared to be shuttered for good.
Klosowski came onto the scene in 2006, determined to restore the castle and recapture that sense of wonder visitors felt in the 1930s.
“I was inspired by the original vision of giving visitors a magical Christmas experience regardless of whether they had money to spend,” says Klosowski. “I felt that the attraction still had so much to offer, and I became passionate about finding a way to make that happen.”
It took time, money, and determination, but the exterior of Santa's Castle looks exactly like it did when it opened nearly 80 years ago.
A number of free events and activities are offered at the castle year round, but Story Time with Santa is the big crowd pleaser in December.
Klosowski says he loves welcoming returning customers that stop by for sweet treats and family fun every holiday season.
“I can't imagine anything more rewarding than being part of a family tradition and helping to make cherished memories that will last long after their visit.”