Christmas in Alaska might only arrive in late December, but the holiday season and spirit are celebrated year-round in the quaint and quirky town of North Pole. No, this isn’t the North Pole set deep in the icy Arctic at the top of the world. This North Pole is a welcoming commuter community about a 15-minute sleigh ride …(or even shorter drive) from Fairbanks and close to Ft. Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base in the heart of Alaska’s Interior region.
Upon arriving, it doesn’t take long to realize this isn’t “Anytown”, U.S.A. North Pole’s quirky-name roadways including Santa Claus Lane, Mistletoe Lane, St. Nicholas Drive, Snowman Lane and Kris Kringle Drive have jumbo candy canes dangling along them, while some businesses and residences are also adorned with their festive finest. What else would you expect from a town that at one time ambitiously hoped to be a toy factory headquarters?
Sadly, not all North Pole’s Christmas wishes came true. But today, North Pole is home to about 2,000 residents, including the jolly old elf himself, Santa Claus. He lives, naturally, in the Santa Claus House, a must stop for fans of the festive season or just classic slice of awesome “only in Alaska” Alaskana.
You’ll actually see Santa’s presence long before you pull into the Santa Claus House parking lot at Santa Claus House with arguably the world’s largest Santa statue, complete with an abbreviated Naughty/Nice list looming over the property. Stand at his feet for a perfect pose – #SantaSelfie! It’s almost comical for summer visitors to take this image, sweating under the Interior’s very warm and very bright Midnight Sun, as the symbol of white Christmases and winter cheer stands over their shoulder. Nearby there’s even a pen of reindeer, who are clearly enjoying a relaxing life of carb-loading before their long night of flight on December 24.
Inside the Santa Claus House, visitors can meet the man himself, Santa (and sometimes Mrs. Claus, too), for a chat and a photo, as well as shop for holiday gifts, ornaments and memorabilia, and even purchase personalized letters from Santa for the well-behaved children in their lives.
Speaking of Christmas letters, hundreds of thousands of messages either addressed to Santa from children or requesting a North Pole postmark on cards from families and individuals arrive from around the world at North Pole’s post office each year. Santa’s little helpers (community volunteers) do their jolly best to make sure every message gets a reply and/or the polar postmark.
Winter is when North Pole truly lives up to its name. This town has a big holiday festival around Christmastime, complete with tree lighting and fireworks. That event certainly feels more like what you’d expect from a town called North Pole, as temps hover around zero.
In the summer, North Pole is warm and welcoming – an excellent destination for Alaska travelers who are looking for an easy-going place to pitch a tent or park an RV along the Chena River or at the nearby Chena Lakes, which are tranquil and excellent for recreational swimming, canoeing and fishing.
While Santa is North Pole’s unrivaled star resident, another icon passes through North Pole: the engineering marvel Trans-Alaska Pipeline. It also isn’t unusual to see moose and other popular Alaska animals in the area, which is surrounded by dense woods. The reindeer, however, are perfectly content to stay put at the Santa Claus House.