As you know, Father Frost's residence is located in Veliky Ustyug. Where does Santa Claus live? At the North Pole, which can also be found … in the state of Alaska), stands on solid (in particular, from underground ice) land, almost in the very center of Alaska. The city is quite small – a little over 2000 people (in 2020 the city's population was about 2250 people. – Note Vokrugsveta.ru) – and seemingly unremarkable.
The first thing you see when you drive into North Pole is the New Year's illumination. At the roundabouts, of which there are many, multi-colored Christmas trees sparkle, and striped “candy canes” glow everywhere, candy canes – an indispensable attribute of American Christmas, symbolizing Christ, his purity (white) and blood (red ), shed for humanity.
The streets are empty – walking at -30 ° C on snow-covered roads is not particularly like. It seems that the city is immersed in cotton wool. People drive up to doctors' offices, post offices, cafes, banks, quickly overcome 10-15 meters to the door and disappear into a warm room.
Most of the houses resemble barracks, set right in the forest, through which the streets are laid. There are no cinemas or theaters in North Pole, but there is a TV and radio station KJNP (King Jesus North Pole), broadcasting around the clock on religious topics (and informally referred to as “50,000 Watts of Jesus screaming”).
Churches —from traditional to very strange —there are about twice as many churches as there are cafes . The set of the latter is quite standard: “Pizza Hut”, “Wendys”, “Subway”, “Taco Bell”. Those who are short of money and do not think about their health dine there. Those who don't have to count cents gather at Pagoda – the best Chinese restaurant in 500 kilometers around.
- Santa Claus: how the main New Year's wizard was “born”
In the difficult winter months, when daylight hours are reduced to four hours, people are looking for the slightest reason to get out at least somewhere, and large stores, completely empty during working hours, serve as a kind of community centers in the evenings. People spend hours there, escaping from the twilight of the house (it is necessary to save on electricity) and forced oxygen starvation (it is necessary to save fuel, so the houses are tightly clogged, all the cracks are smeared with sealants).
Cabin fever (hut fever) – a painful reaction of a person to long months of living in a confined space, manifested in irritability or even real depression – is well known in North Pole, however, as well as almost throughout Alaska.
Many local residents work 20 kilometers from home – in Fairbanks, a large district center by Alaskan standards with a university. Every morning from North Pole to Fairbanks there is a stream of cars on the highway – people rushing to work. A highway is like a highway, only right on the side of the road is the main attraction of North Pole, the Santa Claus House. It is here that tourists come from different parts of the world to see Santa, talk to him and buy souvenirs.
Left: Right section of Santa's House (with striped porch) – the building where Cohn Miller opened his store 61 years ago
Right:Even the lampposts in the city center are made in the shape of candy canes…
It is impossible to pass by: bright lights on a white house with red trim beckon the traveler. However, if not for the catchy colors and lighting, this house would look like a barn, like many houses in the town: a simple structure made of boards sheathed with plywood.
Inside there are several halls connected to each other, filled with Christmas tree decorations, toys, bells, dolls, Christmas trees and various souvenirs. Most of the goods are made in China, but, listening to the outrage of buyers who crave authenticity, the store tries to display as many local products as possible, they are placed on separate shelves with large “Made in Alaska” signs. There are also goods from Russia in the form of unfriendly nesting dolls and an unexpected porcelain wolf from the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St. Petersburg for $150.
“This is an ordinary souvenir shop with insane prices,” some people say about Santa's House. Indeed, the prices for Chinese-made Christmas decorations are almost twice as high here as in other stores. “They've commercialized Santa Claus too much, there's no magic here,” echo others. There is some truth in these words, but it is only for boring adults. And it’s not easy for adults to find a place for themselves where the fairy tale continues to live.
City of North Pole (North Pole)< /em>lies on the northeast bank of the Tanana, one of the largest rivers in Alaska. Despite its name, North Pole is actually located nearly two degrees south of even the Arctic Circle. The longest day here is 21 hours 49 minutes, the shortest day is 3 hours 45 minutes.
The climate is dry, especially in winter – 1/3 of the annual rainfall occurs in six winter months. The lowest temperature in the entire history of observations is -55 °С, the highest is +35 °С.
According to the 2009 census, the population of North Pole is 2226 people: 81% are white, 5.7% are African American, 3.8% are Hispanic, 3.6% are representatives of indigenous peoples of America. 8.7% of the population lives below the poverty line. The median per capita income is $21,426 per year. A woman's income is usually 80% of a man's. The city has 14 police officers and the same number of firefighters (30 trained volunteers help the latter).
- So there you are, reindeer!
Santa and children
Prices for souvenirs are not important for children, they see (and even feed!) reindeer in a fence near the store, then they find Santa in an armchair in the store, and faith in a miracle becomes even stronger.
They write to Santa. Someone asks for toys (often describing the details in some detail), someone asks for miracles, believing in the power of a bearded wizard. Some of the letters are pasted on the walls of the shop.
Left:< em> Children from different parts of the world write to Santa, and sometimes it seems that these are the first letters in their life
Right: Vintage toys property of Santa House founder Con Miller's family
“Dear Santa, hello! I am in the second grade, I am seven years old. I want a glow-in-the-dark tent for Christmas! Thanks for the clothes for my sister. What is the real name of Mrs. Claus? (Ashley).
“Dear Santa! I think I was good this year!” (pink heart instead of signature).
“I never wrote to you, but you always brought me what I wanted! I'll just write what I need or I've got to run… [long wish list] I don't expect you to give me everything. Give the poor people something too, please! Merry Christmas!”
“I don't care what I get for Christmas. Just please don't give me panties!” (Katie).
“Dear Santa! I want dad to come back!” (Haley)
Music is playing softly in the shophouse. Santa signs books, signs autographs. People patiently stand in line, fenced off by velvet railings. Children behave differently: some joyfully climb onto Santa's lap. And very young ones often cry – the bearded old man scares them.
Here is a brave “princess”, smiling broadly, approaches the throne of Santa. They are talking quietly about something, and the old man fishes out for her from somewhere not one, but several gifts. Here, following the little boy, a huge man in military uniform sits on his knees to the old man. What he is talking about is not heard, but the face of the military man is serious and even a little sad.
Here is an older couple with an old French bulldog. Cataracts in both eyes. “The veterinarian said: twelve thousand – and the eyes will be like new. We would pay, but there is no such money! Maybe Santa will help, – quietly says the hostess. The dog sits in Santa's arms with dignity, as if that's what he's been doing all his dog life.
“Ho-ho-ho,” Santa laughs in a bass voice, greeting the next visitor. This is a “brand” laugh: candidates for the position of Santa are required to be able to laugh with a deep, “uterine” laugh, as well as “corpulence”. The local Santa has all the necessary data.
“Where are you from?” – he asks me. “From Russia,” I say. And Santa comes alive:
— Oh, Russia! I was there a few years ago! In Moscow and St. Petersburg! It is beautiful there! I brought a bunch of books from there, but I can't read them, they are in Russian. Then they sent me a huge bottle of vodka from there, I don’t drink, but it’s still nice! I also went to Finland.
“So you know Joulupukki too?”
Yes, that's his name.
— What is it like to be Santa?
– I was born Santa, – he grins slyly. – So you have photos in these clothes somewhere, such a little Santik? – teases the old man Zhenya, with whom we wander shopping (Evgeniya Shpakova, Eve Campbell is the creator of russia-alaska.com. Thank you for your help!).
“No,” he smiles, “but I’ve been Santa for 40 years, I worked in Australia, in Japan, all over America. It's been here for 10 years, I like it because I meet people from everywhere. I hope to work as Santa for a few more years.
Left:In a minute, grandparents all over America will see their grandchildren on Santa's lap
Right: Local craftsman especially for Santa made a belt with a buckle from a piece of pipe used for the construction of a main oil pipeline that runs through all of Alaska and is the world standard for such structures firewood?
– Yes, what kind of firewood at 75 years old … I live in an ordinary small house. Moose and other animals wander to us. Mrs. Claus does charity work. She participates in the organization of the parade on July 4 (US Independence Day. – Note “Around the World”), knits hats for children. We do a lot of things together. They just sent a Christmas present to the Yukon – 40 hats and 40 scarves that she made, and 60 other things.
— Do you keep children's letters? Are any of them sad?
— Yes, a lot of letters from all over the world. We put them in boxes and store them. Many sad ones. Children ask to bring dads home from the war. Or to make dad and mom get back together.
— And how do you feel on the first of January, when all the letters are sent, the gifts are delivered and the children do not come for some time?
— Seven months a year I do other things, work around the house, a hobby again …
— What kind of hobby?
“You know, ” his voice becomes quiet and solemn, “I do stuff.” Toys, locomotives. I like trains. I have 42 sets of locomotives. And I work on them all my free time. Already fifty years, no – sixty. I want to give them to my grandchildren. True, they live too far away. I have twenty-eight. And five great-grandchildren,” Santa's voice rings with pride.
— Are any of them going to follow in your footsteps?
– Not yet. But they know that their grandfather is Santa. And they are all my friends. We often talk to them on Skype. One of them lives in Boise, Idaho, he's grown up, and when he was six years old, they had Santa in town, sitting at the top of the big stairs, in the shopping center. All the people lined up, and the grandson ran straight upstairs and, when he got to that Santa, blurted out: “You are not a real Santa, my grandfather is a real one, he lives in North Pole!” I laugh, but I felt so sorry for that person!
– What are you most proud of?
— I made six wishes of children dying of cancer come true with MakeaWish (a charity whose goal is to fulfill the biggest wish of a child whose days are numbered. — Note “Around the World”). Children are brought here, we give them gifts, ride around, spend a lot of time with them. This is very dear to me. It illuminates my life. I try to do more in this area. I try to show up at the hospital the night before Christmas. It is very sad when children have cancer and it is not known how long they have left to live. When you are near these children, you have to hold on, but when I left the room, I sobbed …
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A home with history
The Santa Claus House opened in 1952, the same year that North Pole officially became a city. And three years earlier, in 1949, the Cohn family and Nellie Miller arrived in Fairbanks with two children. Cohn had only one dollar and forty cents in his pocket. But he somehow managed to get into the fur trade.
In 1952, the family moved to a place that was called either Moose Crossing (moose crossing), then Mosquito Junction< /em> (mosquito crossing). Thinking about how the settlement would develop, local activists decided to register the name North Pole, hoping to build a toy factory and sell them under the label “Made in the North Pole”, and maybe create something like a northern Disneyland. The latter did not work out simply because eight months of the year there is snow here and it is quite cold. The production of toys also somehow did not work. The Millers came up with a good idea.
Con Miller was still in Fairbanks moonlighting as Santa Claus. In North Pole, he built a store and at first sold basic commodities. And one day, when he was renovating a building, a boy running by recognized him and shouted: “Hi, Santa!” Kon's head clicked, and out of an unremarkable general store, the national brand Santa Claus House was born. Kon began to “serve” Santa there, and his wife Nelly turned into Mrs. Santa Claus.
Zhenya and I go shopping, looking at toys. On the top shelves — Not for sale — old dolls owned by the Miller family. They look like characters from the movie Gone with the Wind. The current Ken is a pitiful first-grader compared to the luxurious gentleman with a thin mustache and in a tuxedo, peering out from under the ceiling.
- Who comes at Christmas: 9 Unusual Fairy Creatures
“They don’t have the resources to make signatures for these dolls,” Zhenya complains. “Brenda, do you remember the first Santa?” she asks the saleswoman. ?
“Yes, the first Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus used to be here. They worked for quite some time. We have another Santa, we call him Santa Rich (Richard), but the one you spoke to today is the main one. It also happens in the summer. We have a good life in North Pole – it's so great when you can say “Hi!” Santa every day. So it's like a city as a city, nothing special, but at some point you understand that the place is unique.
I am reading children's letters when a woman stops by with a camera in her hands. She smiles, but her eyes sparkle with emotion. “I lived here for 20 years and took everything for granted. Then I went to Ohio and now I miss this landscape!”
Outside of Santa's House, the life of the town slowly flows. But sometimes the “silent pool” explodes with large-scale events, even by national standards. Here, for example, the only one so far in Alaska was organized (for 2013. — Note by Vokrugsveta.ru) a conspiracy of the type “let’s arrange a massacre, as in the Columbine school” (fortunately, timely uncovered by the police), members of the group that prepared the murders of federal and local officials and politicians lived here before the arrest (the arsenal found at the conspirators impressed even experienced Federals).
Civilians solve their problems – how to pay for fuel, how to provide a family with clean water (many wells are poisoned by oil refinery effluents), how to find a job and an inexpensive nanny.
— We are here… how to say… we love independence. We don't like it when people start telling us how to heat our houses (local authorities have been trying to get residents to switch to less smoky stoves for a long time. — Note. “Around the World”) or how many guns we should have. – Katherine, a local supermarket worker, puts the goods on the shelves, smiling at the same time, like a model from a miracle cosmetics video. She looks just like that – fresh and carefree, despite her 50 years, it seems, thanks to her Irish roots.
Yes, we are an independent people. I would say not very sociable. But many people know each other, and it's nice when you live in such a small community, – complements the words of colleague Linda, a curly brunette of the same age.
– It's good that you don't have to pretend to be someone. You don't have to worry about what you're wearing. Katherine gives me a quick look. You won't be judged by your costume. You can be yourself,” she develops the theme, and I am glad that I did not wear a silver fur coat.
— Our people love outdoor life) – hunting, fishing, skiing, snowmobiling. Entertainment? – asks Katherine. -For entertainment it's in Fairbanks. They know what they think about us: North Pole is somewhere far away, a hundred miles away! And we are talking about them: Fairbanks? Ten minutes drive!
— Here our main entertainment is to meet one of our friends in a church or in a shop where it is warm and light, and to chat. Well, yes, on Christmas eve, you suddenly see Santa in his costume in the store, – Linda smiles. – Santa, of course, is a noticeable part of local life, but not all of life.
- Factology: Christmas made up
MEMO FOR TRAVELERS
Alaska, North Pole
Distancefrom Moscow to Fairbanks – 6600 km (from 26 hours in flight with two transfers), from Fairbanks to Norg Pole – 23 km along the highway
Time lags behind Moscow by 13 hours in winter and 12 hours in summer
See Christmas in Ice” – contest ice sculpture. Here you can not only admire the works of sculptors from different countries, but also wander through the ice labyrinth and ride down a high hill (adults are allowed).
EatAlaskan king crab (two legs for $33*) at Eff's den.
Drink Alaskan Amber beer. The price is $3 per bottle or ~$8 for a pack of six.
Live at the North Pole hotel. It is closest to the Santa Claus House. $100-$200 per night.
Move from Fairbanks to North Pole by shuttle bus. Travel time is 35 minutes. Ticket price $1.50, day pass $3.
Buy Santa's House Christmas souvenir as a gift, such as a small Eskimo figurine made from five different furs ($113) ; for yourself – ugly, not warm and non-slip Keen boots in the city mall ($ 70-130).
* Here and below prices for 2013
Photo: Charles Mason, Chon Kit Leong/Alamy/Legion Media
Published in Vokrug Sveta No. 1, January 2014, partially updated December 2022