by Sally Carpenter
In finding a setting for my new series, I wanted to use a small town, as is typical in most cozies. But I didn’t want a generic town or the same city as every other cozy. What could I do that was unique enough to stand out?
I recalled a town I’d visited as a kid: Santa Claus, Indiana. Being a Christmas junkie myself, it just made sense to model my fictitious cozy town after this one.
The tiny burg of about 1,000 residents sits among the rolling, wooded hills of south central Indiana, just a few miles north of the Ohio River, the state’s southern border. The town was settled as early as 1846.
According to local legend, in 1852 the good townsfolk were gathered around a potbelly stove after the Christmas Eve service to try and pick a name for their burg. A wind blew open the church door and revealed a charming scene of falling snowflakes and the sound of sleigh bells. The children ran to the door shouting, “Santa Claus!”
Industrialist Louis J. Koch, who had retired from his business in the nearby big city of Evansville, decided to take advantage of the town’s name. He set up the world’s first theme park—even older than Disneyland. Santa Claus Land opened its gates in 1946.
The park had wooden roller coasters, kiddie rides, live reindeer, a doll museum, artists making glassware, magic and puppet shows, performing animals (this was long before PETA), the Christmas Room restaurant, and a live, year-round Santa Claus, played for many years by Jim Yellig.
Over the years the theme park expanded into the current Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari water park. The park added sections related to other holidays: Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and a non-scary Halloween. Despite the growth, the park is still owned and operated by the Koch family, giving it a non-commercial, hometown appeal.
But the Christmas spirit doesn’t stop with the park. A giant Santa Claus statue stands at the town’s border. The streets have such names as Elf Lane, Fir Tree Circle, Jingle Bell Lane, Madonna Drive, Mistletoe Drive, Ornament Circle and Rudolph Lane.
The local Catholic parish is, of course, St. Nicolas Church.
Each year the town post office receives thousands of letters addressed to Santa. Many people send their Christmas cards through the post office just to receive a special postmark.
As a kid, I was familiar the town, about an hour’s drive from my home, because of the Santa Claus Campground where I attended the summer church camp (the camp is still in operation today with the same buildings). One year, mom picked me up at the end of camp and we visited Santa Claus Land. Unfortunately, we didn’t take any photos nd I don’t remember much about the park.
For my book I recreated my own theme park, the Country Christmas Family Fun Park, where my heroine performs in one of the musical shows. I’ve borrowed a few features from the real Santa Claus Land, but also added new elements of my own. I also had a blast thinking up such establishments for the town as the North Pole Café (a restaurant) and Lollipop Lanes bowling alley.
Many years ago I met a man named Noel. He was born on Dec. 25. I though that was a great name, so naturally I named my heroine Noelle, using the French spelling that I think looks more feminine.
I’m hoping readers will find Yuletide, Indiana as much fun to visit as the real-life Santa Claus, Ind.