Merry municipal names
Living in a town named for the jolliest time of the year sometimes imparts a measure of magical persuasion, as U.S. Postmaster Don Spiares discovered when he moved to Noel, Mo.
“I was a little Scrooge-ish when I first came here — kind of a fuddy-duddy about Christmas. But the spirit in this place, it really turns you around,” he said, one-and-a-half years later.
From the day after Thanksgiving until the day after Christmas, Noel, Mo., with its population of about 1,824 residents, decks out. In fact, Spiares joked: “For that month we pronounce it ‘Know-El,’, instead of ‘Knowel.’”
The post office gets in on the action by adorning all correspondence with a trio of holiday cancellations. The sheer volume of holiday stamp requests that arrive requires four-hour shifts, consisting of two volunteers per shift, to process.
Each envelope and package, if it was mailed with the minimum required amount of postage, is passed along to its destinations for free. Even so, 90 percent of Noel’s holiday mail walks in the door, instead — hand-delivered by mailers who plan vacations around dropping them off.
The seasonal notoriety is as welcomed in Noel as it is in the even-smaller town of Rudolph, Wis. On the second Sunday of each December, Rudolph’s 432 residents drop what they’re doing and pull together a country Christmas celebration worthy of an entity three times its size. This year’s activities included a parade, live Nativity, vendors, a chili feed and contests like Dutch oven cooking, gingerbread baking and dogsled pulling. Everything is covered under the town’s liability insurance, Rudolph Town Clerk Ronald Peters noted.
Resident Christy Steinle agreed to organized the 2013 annual event, partly out of civic pride and partly out of personal enjoyment. “Everyone’s family comes to town. I know I have over 100 people at my house. They bring the kids, the friends, everyone.”
Although a focus on the Christmas holiday seems only appropriate in a place called Rudolph, the name instead springs from a different sentiment: It’s in honor of Rudolph Hecox, the first white child born in the major pine logging region in 1832.
“When you go to meetings and trainings and such, people have fun with the name,” Peters said. “But it doesn’t bother me. It brings people to town and makes the season really enjoyable.”
Noel is blessed with a dual-season tourism base. In addition to its holiday fame, the town is situated on the picturesque Elk River and draws out-of-town campers and canoers during spring, summer and fall. When winter does come, count on Noel to decorate appropriately and even to float a decorated Christmas tree in the local reservoir. It frequently finds itself on the list of stops for the regional Christmas Train as well.
“Our city hall is the old depot so it’s perfect. We’re Christmas central. Vendors come in, there’s lots of free hot chocolate and the kids can come walk through the train and get goodie bags. People come from all over the state for it,” Mayor John Lafley said.
While Christmas is usually a holiday, celebrated with family, friends, food and gifts, for residents of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Christmas is also a destination.
Visitors to the area traverse Jingle Bell Lane, Scrooge Alley, North Pole Street, Reindeer Run and Santa Claus Lane year-round to hunt, look out on Lake Superior, enjoy fall foliage, fish and snowmobile. They’re welcomed by a sign featuring Mrs. Claus and can find overnight accommodations at the Yule Log Resort.
Originally named Onota, and known as Bay Furnace because of a local smelting operation, the community acquired its current identity from a local toy factory that operated for a short time during the mid-1900s. The factory burned down a few years after it opened, but by then residents and merchants had embraced their merry new identity.
Terry Gatiss grew up in Christmas, Mich. She recalls a time when the celebration of its namesake was a town effort. Gatiss and her husband, Richard, now sit on the 10-person Christmas Village Civic Association that’s trying to bring that spirit back. To that end, the fourth annual Christmas in Christmas event happens this month — and Terry happily notes that every business has hung decorations.
“I’m proud of the name,” she said. “I left for 20 years, and when I would tell people where I was from, I loved the reaction: ‘Hmm. Candy Cane Lane, in Christmas, Mich. — Really?’ They would look at me funny. I get a kick out of it.”
When families stay at the Gatiss’ hotel resort, the couple offer to collude with parents to see that Santa leaves the children a gift — even during the summer. Recently, when they took a two-week vacation, the destination was the only logical place dedicated developers of a Christmas-named town might look to for ideas: Santa Claus, Ind.
“I think we’ve got a ways to go before we’re Santa Claus… but we got lots of good ideas,” Terry said.
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