6 Places That Celebrate Christmas Year-Round

George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

For some people, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day are more than enough time to celebrate the holidays. But the people living near these locations may feel differently. From Alaska to Tennessee, here are six towns where Yule is a 365-day affair.

1. North Pole, Alaska

You wouldn’t be faulted for mistaking this 2200-person town for Santa’s home-base. While it’s closer to Fairbanks, Alaska, than the true North Pole, it does feature several festive landmarks such as Santa Claus Lane, Kris Kringle Drive, and an expansive Santa Claus house that’s open year-round. In 2015, residents even elected a local man named Santa Claus to preside over the town as mayor. Settled in 1944, North Pole has a development company to thank for its quirky address. The hope was that a toy company would be enticed to move there so they could market their toys as being “made in the North Pole.” That never came to fruition, but the town has embraced their jolly title nonetheless. Things get especially exciting around December, when they celebrate with an ice sculpture contest and an annual winter festival. It’s also the time of year when the town receives hundreds of thousands of letters addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole, Alaska.” A team of volunteers works each season to ensure every letter is answered.

2. Midland, Michigan

There’s no need to journey north of the Arctic Circle to learn what it takes to be Kris Kringle. The most prestigious Santa Claus academy on earth can be found in Midland, Michigan. Since 1934, the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School has been attracting rotund, rosy-cheeked gentlemen to the Midwestern town. It’s there that they’re taught reindeer handling 101, how to dress like St. Nick, and the history of the legendary character. Once the holiday season rolls around, the newly trained Santas disperse to malls across the country—or if they decide to stick around, they can march in Midland’s annual Santa Parade.

3. Frankenmuth, Michigan

The streets of Frankenmuth feel like they belong on the pages of a storybook. Dubbed “Michigan’s Little Bavaria,” the town is home to covered bridges, charming old-world architecture, and horse-drawn carriages reminiscent of another era. But the town’s main attraction is what's said to be the world’s largest Christmas store, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. The 320,000-square-foot space contains 350 decorated trees, 150 styles of nutcrackers, and gifts imported from 70 countries around the world. A hundred thousand Christmas lights brighten the store’s exterior throughout the seasons (their electric bill averages $1250 a day).

4. Santa Claus, Indiana

The residents of Santa Claus, Indiana, didn’t have visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads when they came up with the town’s merry moniker—they were just suffering from a lack of inspiration. In 1856, back when the town went by Santa Fe, they learned that a town of that name already existed in Indiana. Wanting to at least keep the first half of their address, they reportedly chose the name Santa Claus simply because they failed to come up with something more creative. More than 150 years later, Santa Claus, Indiana, is the state’s number one destination for year-round holiday festivities. Visitors can check out the town’s Holiday World (which pays homage to Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Independence Day as well as Christmas), pick out sweet treats from Santa’s Candy Castle, or head over to Santa’s Lodge motel and bask in the glory of the two 12-foot fiberglass St. Nicks on display outside. Kids looking to reach the community’s famous post office can mail their holiday wish lists to 45 North Kringle Place, Santa Claus, IN 47579.

5. Bethlehem, Pennslyvania

Finding Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, isn’t difficult for those nearby—just follow the electric star that looks down on the town from its perch on South Mountain. The festive landmark was first erected in 1937 in an effort to attract tourists to the town in the midst of the Great Depression. That same year, Bethlehem was officially named “Christmas City, U.S.A.” by the Chamber of Commerce—a fitting title for a town that was founded on Christmas Eve in 1741. Originally made from incandescent bulbs strung on plywood, the star of Bethlehem currently consists of steel and LED lights that glow every night of the year.

6. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Looking for a blinged-out nutcracker in the middle of July? The Incredible Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, has you covered. The self-proclaimed largest Christmas shopping village in the South is home to wreaths, lights, ornaments, and any other holiday-themed decor you may need whatever time of year you need it. In 2007, the store opened a festive hotel across the street where customers could continue keeping with the holiday spirit even after they’d finished shopping. The Inn at Christmas Place features performances by a singing Santa three times a week, present-wrapping workshops, and plenty of holly jolly embellishments. Things get even more intense around the actual holidays, with 30 or more trees displaying nearly half a million lights on the hotel grounds.

A ‘Valentine Phantom’ Has Been Covering Portland, Maine, in Paper Hearts for More Than 40 Years

Corey Templeton, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Corey Templeton, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Portland, Maine, has a secret admirer. Each Valentine's Day, flyers and banners with pink and red hearts appear in random spots around the city. According to Bangor Daily News, no one has claimed responsibility for the anonymous valentines in 41 years.

The first evidence of the so-called "Valentine Phantom" (who is sometimes referred to as the "Valentine Bandit") surfaced in Portland in 1976. Paper hearts were found plastering the streets on the holiday, with no clues indicating where they came from. The mystery only grew as the hearts returned every year on February 14. There's no pattern dictating where the hearts are placed; they've been found on everything from snowbanks to landmarks. Massive banners have also been hung up in prominent places. In the past decade, giant hearts have emblazoned the Portland Public Library and the ruins of Fort Gorges in Casco Bay.

In 2017, Bangor Daily News landed an exclusive interview with the Valentine Phantom. The mysterious force is actually a crew of Valentine's Day-lovers with connections to various sites and buildings around the city. The perpetrators declined to share their identities, telling the outlet, “Most people are dying to be in the paper. This is the opposite. This is not ego-driven.”

The Phantom has done more than spread good feelings to fellow Portlanders on Valentine's Day; they've sparked a nationwide trend. Similar anonymous heart flyers have appeared in Montpelier, Vermont, and Boulder, Colorado.

[h/t Bangor Daily News]

8 Facts About Lupercalia—the Ancient Festival Full of Whippings and Ritual Sacrifice

Sex, violence, and drunkenness: For centuries, Lupercalia was a major Roman party, surviving well into the rise of Christianity. And pretty soon, someone on your Facebook feed is probably going to claim that this holiday gave rise to our modern Valentine’s Day. So what’s the true story behind the ancient Roman festival and its relation to candy hearts?

1. Lupercalia featured odd sacrifices.

Every year on February 15, the festival began by going to the Lupercal (the legendary site where Romulus and Remus were suckled) and sacrificing a dog and a goat. According to scholar Keith Hopkins, this was unusual in and of itself, because pigs, sheep, and bulls were most commonly used as sacrificial animals. The Oxford Classical Dictionary explains that next, the blood of these animals "was smeared with a knife on the foreheads of two youths (who were obliged to laugh), and wiped with wool dipped in milk."

2. Whippings were also on the menu.

After the blood/wool excitement, Lupercalia's main attraction was the runners. The sacrificed goat’s skin was cut into thongs and (possibly—see below) girdles to be worn by the athletes. Then two sets of runners (a third set would be added later) would make their way through the streets of the city, whipping whomever they met on their way. According to some accounts, women would volunteer to be whipped because it was believed to bring fertility and make the birthing process easier for them. But as the years passed, things changed; by the 3rd century, the voluntary nature of this ritual seemed to be less voluntary. Hopkins claims that a mosaic featuring a Lupercalia celebration features “two men forcibly holding a naked woman face upwards, while a third man, half naked, whips her thighs ... The men’s drunken hilarity is matched by the beaten woman’s obvious pain."

3. People may have been naked—or maybe not.

One long-standing debate about Lupercalia is the degree of nudity. There are definite references to nudus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean naked. It could just mean “having one’s main garment removed,” possibly in reference to the runners wearing goat skin loincloths. But other writers were explicit in mentioning nudity as part of the festivities. It remains an open question whether the festival was PG-, R-, or X-rated.

4. It’s not quite clear who or what the Lupercalia festival was celebrating.

Circle of Adam Elsheimer The Lupercalian Festival in Rome
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

According to the 1st century BCE scholar Marcus Terentius Varro, "the Luperci [are so called] because at the Lupercalia they sacrifice at the Lupercal … the Lupercalia are so called because [that is when] the Luperci sacrifice at the Lupercal." This incredibly unhelpful circular definition has led to centuries of debate about who, or what, the festival was actually celebrating.

Ovid suggested that it was for Faunus (a Roman pastoral god); Livy said it was Inuus (the god of fertility); and Varro said it was a wolf goddess named Luperca. Traditionally, the two sets of runners are related to the mythological founders of Rome—Romulus and Remus—who were suckled by a wolf. But confusingly, Livy says that the twins were ambushed by bandits while celebrating the Lupercalia, leading some scholars to suggest the festival predates Romulus and Remus.

As South African scholar P.M.W. Tennant observed while discussing Romulus and Remus and the Lupercalia, “most of the ideas put forward here are obviously highly conjectural—as all theories concerning the Lupercalia are bound to be."

5. Lupercalia is when Julius Caesar was offered the crown.

Today, Lupercalia is probably most famous for what happened on February 15, 44 BCE. That day a “ naked, perfumed, drunk ” Mark Antony was one of the runners while Julius Caesar watched the proceedings from a throne. Antony went up to Julius Caesar with a diadem (a type of crown or headband) and—in what later historians have said was almost certainly scripted—attempted to give it to Caesar and proclaim him king.

The crowd's initial response to this action was tepid, but when Caesar refused the crown they cheered. Antony tried again, Caesar refused again, and the crowd exploded. Caesar ordered the crown taken to the Temple of Jupiter because Jupiter was Rome’s one king. The purpose of this exercise has been debated. Some propose Antony did it on his own to either flatter Caesar or embarrass him, while at the time it was thought that Caesar orchestrated the stunt as a way to test the waters for whether the people would accept a king. Either way, it didn't really work out for Caesar; he was assassinated one month later.

6. A Pope criticized the festival.

One of Lupercalia's most remarkable features is how long it survived. We know this because circa 494 CE, Pope Gelasius wrote a letter criticizing Christian participation in it. He commented on how in the olden days nobles would run as Lupercali and strike naked matrons, and modern participants should be willing to similarly run naked. By Gelasius’s time this had become heavily altered, leading him to proclaim “your own bashfulness ought itself to teach you that the Lupercalia is a public crime, not salvation and the cult of the Divinity, regarding which no wise man would blush. Rather the Lupercalia is an instrument of depravity, which your mind, bearing testimony against itself, blushes to fulfill.”

The letter is interesting to historians for many reasons. First, because Gelasius flat-out describes many of the less seemly rites, and it also allows historians to analyze how Lupercalia changed with time and changed with the perception of the author. For instance, Gelasius indicated that by the 5th century lower classes were the runners, whereas important figures like Mark Antony participated in earlier events.

7. Despite what you've heard, Lupercalia probably has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day.

Many pop culture websites and books declare that Pope Gelasius replaced Lupercalia with a festival dedicated to St. Valentine of Rome (or possibly of Terni—the figure is mysterious) who had his feast day on February 14. But as British author Mark Forsyth once observed, "It is vitally important when writing about traditions to remember that there are only 365 days in the year ... Overlap is not significance."

Most medieval historians agree there’s no evidence that Pope Gelasius replaced Lupercalia with any festival whatsoever (a similar claim that Candlemas replaced Lupercalia is also without merit) with scholar Jack Oruch proclaiming “at no point does Gelasius speak of compromise or of adapting any pagan customs” and another professor telling History.com: "It just drives me crazy that the Roman story keeps circulating and circulating." Meanwhile, popular legends that Lupercalia featured girls writing their names on paper that would be drawn from a box by boys are likely an 18th-century invention.

Most mainstream historians instead propose that Valentine’s Day and romance became associated with each other only in the late 14th century, and specifically because of a Geoffrey Chaucer poem called "Parliament of Fowls" (or "Parlement of Foules").

8. Valentine’s Day might not even be on February 14.

In Chaucer’s poem, he proclaimed (in modern spelling) “For this was on Saint Valentine’s day / When every bird came there to choose his mate.” But some historians have noted that February 14 is still very cold in England and is unlikely to be a good bird mating season. In the 1980s some historians, led by Andy Kelly of UCLA, began proposing that the "Valentine" Chaucer was referring to was St. Valentine of Genoa, whose feast day occurred on May 2 or May 3 (sources differ), instead of Valentine of Rome. This is especially relevant because King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia concluded their marriage treaty on May 2, meaning Chaucer may have chosen Valentine by just picking out a random saint whose day fell on the correct day in May. Over the years, the association with May weakened and the day migrated to the more famous Valentine of Rome.

Other scholars objected, pointing out that there are many references to fertility rites and festivals in February—such as Lupercalia—and that Chaucer may have been discussing the more famous Valentine of Rome and February 14.

"In medieval studies there is neither consensus nor continuing debate on the question which St. Valentine Chaucer had in mind," Professor Steven Justice of the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. "The evidence just hasn't supported any conclusive arguments one way or the other, and unless one is (a) convinced that the feast, whichever it is, identifies the historical occasion of the poem, if it had one, and (b) interested in that historical occasion, the question does not seem very consequential. One would like an answer just because one doesn't like unanswered questions, but it's not clear that much hangs on it."

One thing is clear: Today, whether you celebrate Lupercalia or St. Valentine of Rome’s day in February or St. Valentine of Genoa in May, it's best leave out the goat sacrifices and running naked through the streets.

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