Christmas In Christmas

Douglas Taylor became postmaster of Noel, Missouri, the week before Thanksgiving last year. "I came from California," he said. "And I had no idea."

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2007, the Noel Post Office processed 30,428 Christmas cards and packages - double the usual volume of mail for this town of 1,500 people.

"We had cards from France, Canada, Spain and Great Britain, and from 34 U.S. states," Taylor said. Plus radio and TV crews. "It was a blur, but it was quite fun," he said.

Some senders ship cards to Noel with postage already affixed; others drive in from nearby Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. Their envelopes and boxes are postmarked "Noel" with special holiday stamps and sent out.

Noel is just one of a number of places with Christmas names that see a lot of out-of-towners this time of year. Sometimes, the post office is the main attraction; sometimes, there are holiday light displays and Santa visits. Here's a look at Christmas in Christmas, Fla., Santa Claus, Ind., Bethlehem, Pa., and North Pole, Alaska.

CHRISTMAS, Fla.: This small town between Orlando and the Kennedy Space Center is a little like Noel: The most popular destination for out-of-towners is the post office. A special mailbox accepts letters for Santa Claus, which are answered by a volunteer.

Other holiday touches around town: Streets are named after reindeer, mail is collected in Santa-shaped boxes and a trimmed tree on the main highway never comes down.

SANTA CLAUS, Ind.: In the summer, Santa Claus gets lots of visitors to its amusement park, Holiday World & Splashin' Safari. But this time of year, tourism is all about Christmas. In addition to the post office, attractions include the Santa Claus Museum, Santa's Candy Castle, Santa's Lodge and the Christmas Lake Village Festival of Lights along a 9-mile trail, with a parade, holiday concerts and craft show.

Although the Candy Castle dates to 1935 and has old-fashioned attractions like a sweet shop and a place where kids can compose a letter to Santa, there are also 21st century touches, like a North Pole Webcam and an interactive computer network where children can chat with an elf or tell Santa what they want. If you can't visit in person, visit online.

BETHLEHEM, Pa.: Bethlehem's nickname is the Christmas City, and its busiest time of year starts Nov. 28 with the lighting of the city's official tree. Bethlehem's Christkindlmarkt for holiday shoppers runs Nov. 28-30 and Dec. 4-7, 11-14 and 18-21. It offers ice-carving, visits with St. Nick and food, including German and Austrian specialties.

The city also has a Main Street shopping district, decorated for the holidays, and on the South Side, a mix of shops, art galleries and eateries.

The town was named Bethlehem on Christmas Eve in 1741 by Moravian immigrants. Central Moravian Church hosts a Christmas show featuring hymns, carols and the story of early Moravians and their interactions with the American Indians. The show runs Dec. 4-6, 11-13 and 20.

Horse carriage rides, walking tours and night bus tours are also available. After Christmas Day, visitors can attend Christmas City Cirque performances, Dec. 27-28, or First Night Bethlehem, Dec. 31.

NORTH POLE, Alaska: No, this isn't the Earth's geographic North Pole, located amid the Arctic Ocean. This North Pole, population 2,200, is 12 miles from Fairbanks; it was officially named in 1953.

One of the big draws here, for anyone who cares to experience winter in Alaska this holiday season, is North Pole Christmas in Ice, an ice festival and sculpting competition. Last year was the first time the event was held. It featured a fierce contest between ice artists from Alaska and China carving a Christmas-themed sculpture from a block of ice.

This year's event kicks off on Thanksgiving Day with the illumination of a frozen turkey sculpture 8 feet tall and 18,500 pounds. There will also be an ice park with ice slides for kids opening Dec. 4 at the start of the two-day ice-carving competition. The park will stay open every day through the end of December. Click here for Webcam competition coverage, schedule and hours.

North Pole's Santa Claus House includes a gift shop, Santa and real reindeer. "Every year we receive thousands of letters to Santa from kids all over the world," said manager Paul Brown. Some letters get posted on a wall there; others will be put online.
Associated Press Writer Travis Reed in Miami contributed to this report.

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