Some 2,347 miles northwest of Seattle, Santa Claus is hunkered down in his small Alaska hometown busying himself with the final details of the nighttime ride he'll take around the world on Christmas Eve. As he runs the operation from his home in North Pole, among his tasks in these early weeks of December is to write and mail letters to his believers.
To get the job done, he deputizes mail carriers with the U.S. Postal Service as a civilian team of elves. Like many celebrities these days, he also takes advantage of a large team of ghostwriters to craft customized messages for each child.
Parents, take note. If you're helping Santa with his letters this year you must get them in the mail by Dec. 10. The process is straightforward. Write a letter to your child from Santa Claus and sign it "From Santa." Place the letter in an envelope addressed to your child and bearing the return address "Santa, North Pole." Make sure a first- class stamp is on the envelope. Place the addressed envelope into a larger envelope and mail it to:
NORTH POLE POSTMARK
4141 POSTMARK DR
ANCHORAGE AK 99530-9998
Santa's postal elves in Anchorage will handle it from there. This year, the U.S. Postal Service is on track to handle some 180,000 North Pole postmarks, up at least 20,000 from what it typically receives.
Another nonprofit called Santa's Mailbag, which writes its own letters to children who've written Santa, writes about a quarter of a million letters a year.
The city of North Pole, 386 miles north of Anchorage, is home to about 2,115 people. Some live or work on Kris Kringle Drive, Snowman Lane or St. Nicholas Drive. About 10 times as many people live in nearby communities, not including Fairbanks, Alaska's second-largest city, which is located even farther north. Despite the name, the city is about 1,700 miles south of Earth's geographic North Pole.
North Pole has branded itself the place "where the Spirit of Christmas lives year round," capitalizing on the Christmas theme with year-round decorations and of course The Santa Claus House as a reliable main attraction. It boasts the world's largest fiberglass statue of Santa outside. Street lamps with red and white stripes are dressed up like candy canes, and in the winter Christmas trees and ice sculptures abound.
Recently, temperatures in Santa's neighborhood have plunged to 45 degrees below zero and in past years the temperature has dipped to minus-71, according to the National Weather Service. While Santa is certainly accustomed to living in a deep freeze, he may need to be careful when he's doing outdoor chores. Because so many people burn wood to stay warm, North Pole has some of the worst air quality in the nation, routinely measured at "very unhealthy" levels. When air quality is that poor, the elderly, children and people with respiratory problems are advised to stay indoors.
While Santa has a large and busy operation, he's not the only employer in town. Government, military, retail and medial jobs also provide residents of Alaska's interior a way to earn a living. Eielson Air Force Base is close by. Two of the state's four oil refineries are located in the North Pole area, keeping fuel trains full with jet fuel to deliver to the international airport and major cargo hub in Anchorage.
State Representative-elect and former North Pole mayor Doug Isaacson sees the place as a small but mighty locale essential to the state's overall economic picture -- keeping transportation systems going, servicing the military, and producing energy.
The off-the-highway city is home to lifelong North Pole residents, new families and short-term residents, an eclectic mix in what Isaacson describes as a "transitional town" with both rural and urban traits.
"We are a quaint little town that is continuing to grow and evolve in the spirit of Christmas," he said. "It's the greatest little community."
Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com