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What is Santa, Idaho like during December?

Surely, a town named "Santa" would be displaying some sort of extra Christmas cheer, right?

SANTA, Idaho — We've all heard of those places, or maybe neighborhoods, that get all decked out for Christmas. Lights, music, large Christmas trees - you name it. Leavenworth is one place that certainly comes to mind.

So surely, a town named "Santa" would be displaying some sort of extra Christmas cheer, right?

Searching for a fun story and to quell my own curiosity about holiday spirit in Santa, Idaho, I packed up my camera, downloaded some podcasts, and started to drive to the Benewah County community Southeast of Saint Maries on Wednesday.

To be clear, I'll get a couple of things out of the way first: I realize that Santa is not named after Santa Claus. It's instead named after the Santa Anna Creek, according to a 1992 Associated Press report. I also realize that if you're from that area or have visited Santa before, this may sound a little silly. But I'd argue I'm not the only one who has wondered what Santa is like around Christmas.

From afar, the small town looked picturesque along highway 3. This version of Americana featured snowy hills and what looked like a cloud from wood-burning stoves hovering above the community that once catered to busy loggers and miners. Today, it's easy to tell that Santa is much more calm. According to U.S. Census data, Santa's zip code shows a population of 320.

Credit: KREM

As I crossed over the Saint Maries River into town, I wasn't greeted with any large welcome signs or seasonal displays of St. Nick. While I wasn't surprised per se, I was keeping an open mind and had hoped to see some noticeable signs of Christmas cheer.

For the most part, Santa, Idaho appeared to be a fairly normal North Idaho small town. Modest homes and vehicles lined the streets and logging trucks passed through town on a somewhat consistent basis.

"It's not much different than any place," an elderly resident told me outside the Santa post office. The more than 100-year-old building appeared to be the community's lone business. "Everybody's kind of laid back here and relaxed," the old man continued.

"This is my first Christmas visit to Santa," said Jodie Johnson, who was waiting for the post office to open. "I thought there might be [Christmas decorations]. I wasn't sure." 

Johnson had made a special trip to the Santa post office from her home west of Saint Maries.  It turns out she's not the only one.

For years, Santa's post office has used a special stamp on outgoing mail. It depicts Santa Claus, the date, and signifies that the mail is coming from Santa, Idaho. The tradition often results in the post office receiving mail from across the country and occasionally from around the world.

On Wednesday, the post office's lone employee showed me a small box containing dozens of letters waiting to receive the special ink stamp. It was evident that she would be busier than usual today.

I will add that I was aware of the Santa post office tradition before making the trek to town. Regardless, it was still neat to see in person. In our age of Facebook messages, texts, and Instagram posts, it's refreshing that some people will go out of their way for a special snail-mail stamp.

"I get mail from New York City, from all over the place," said post office Officer in Charge Marcie Jones to CBS affiliate KLEW in 2012. 

Previous stories reported that the post office becomes increasingly busy around Christmas.

And to the post office's credit, the old building featured Christmas lights and festive window paint. A tree greeted customers that came inside to check their PO boxes.

Credit: KREM

Aside from the old post office, I was still curious if any locals in Santa took it upon themselves to play up the holiday season and the town's coincidentally festive name.

Luckily, just a block from the post office, I came across the home of Shawna Ahonen.

Standing out in a wonderful way, her and her husband's large lawn featured 22 hand-cut Christmas trees with lights, blow up decorations, and wire displays. One decoration featured a unicorn. The mythical creature seemed fitting for Ahonen's unique Christmas oasis in Santa.

"I love the lights," a smiling Ahonen told me after I took some shots of her property. "To me it's relaxing. I love to look out at the lights." She remarked that several local residents enjoyed taking in her display too.

Ahonen, who was wearing a Christmas tree sweater complete with ornaments when we spoke, admitted that not everyone in Santa put up lights on their home. "A lot of people don't decorate. So I like to do my yard up big so they can come and look at it," she said.

However, Ahonen's theory for a perceived lack of Christmas decorations across town was a somewhat sobering one.

"Our town has had a lot of deaths in the last year," she pointed out, adding that Santa's aging population likely isn't helping. "But we've had a lot of years where there really wasn't any kids in Santa."

Ahonen made a very good point. After all, who am I to be the judge on how people in Santa celebrate Christmas? I'm willing to bet the town's founder wasn't envisioning that future residents would decorate the town to the nines come Christmas. After all, the community was named after a creek.

Regardless, Ahonen and the post office's lone employee don't mind spreading holiday cheer however they can. And I applaud them for that.

"I love living in a town called Santa," grinned Ahonen. "If I had my way, my yard would look like that year round. My husband might have a different opinion," she chuckled.

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