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Residents Preserve Town’s Christmas Heritage

December 16, 1985

SANTA CLAUS, Ga. (AP) _ A dream of turning Santa Claus into a tourist attraction ended with the arrival of the interstates, but residents still line the streets with candles and sell ornaments year-round in this tiny town where Christmas spirit is synonymous with civic pride.

The twin white pillars of City Hall have been wrapped in red ribbon to resemble candy canes. A nativity display is on the roof and a plastic Santa adorns the front steps of the brick building.

But the big event this time of year in Santa Claus is when the town’s 275 residents place lighted candles along the nine streets on Christmas Eve to help St. Nick find children’s homes.

″It makes a pretty impressive sight,″ said Mayor Bernard Harden, a 47- year-old salesman who lives on Candy Cane Lane. ″We have a lot of visitors who ride through here looking at all the streets.″

″It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,″ said Debbie Morris, a clerk at the Santa Claus Grocery Store.

Among the snuff tins and headache remedies at the general store, the town’s only business besides the 16-room Santa Claus motel, are colorful ceramic Christmas ornaments sold throughout the year.

Mr. Santa and Mrs. Santa sit on a shelf, along with a dog with a candy cane and a red sleeping cap and red boots that hold candy canes. Della O’Neal, who bought the store only two months ago, said she plans to keep a decorated tree on the premises year-round.

The town’s name originated with C.G. ″Farmer″ Green, who ran a shop that sold souvenirs and pecan candies to tourists in the 1930s and 1940s, Harden said.

″He started calling it Santa Claus to promote his sales,″ said the mayor. ″When they chartered the town in 1941, it was a natural thing to call it Santa Claus.″

Green moved on, and developer William Salem began building brick houses in a pecan grove that had supplied the shop. ″He ... let people move into them and start paying for them when they could,″ said Harden, noting that the only street in town without a Christmas theme is Salem Boulevard.

Besides Candy Cane Lane, there’s December Drive, Rudolph Way and Sleigh, Dancer, Prancer, Reindeer and Noel streets.

Santa Claus’ post office has been closed, but the town has retained its postmark. Each year it receives requests from all over the country to mail Christmas cards. Harden estimates he and two others will postmark about 200 cards this Christmas.

Although most tourists opt for Interstate 95 to the east or Interstate 75 to the west, some travelers, especially retired people, like to travel the backroads to enjoy the countryside and discover small towns like Santa Claus, said Vipin Sheth, owner of the Santa Claus Motel.

″It’s not a dead road,″ he said of the highway that used to be a major route for tourists traveling to Florida from the Northeast.

A native of India, Sheth purchased the motel this year and will be spending his first Christmas in Santa Claus. He was making plans to put up his large, lighted Christmas tree.

″Ho, Ho, Ho,″ he said. ″It’s nice to celebrate Christmas.″

Santa Claus will hold what Harden described as its first citywide Christmas party on Saturday. St. Nick will arrive by car and pass out fruit and candy to the kids.

″Everyone gets involved,″ said Harden. ″Doing things together brings people together. There seems to be a closeness here that you don’t find in other towns. Cooperation is tremendous.″

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