Arizona isn’t the first state to come to mind when thinking about the winter holidays. Yet, Arizona has several cities with names that pay tribute to the season.
The name Christmas, Arizona brings to mind cacti decorated with festive holiday lights and stockings hung from spikes, a place where wintering “snowbirds” might park their RVs and soak in the sun. But in reality, Gila County’s Christmas is now nothing more than a ghost town. Established in 1905, the town was named after a mining claim whose owners found out their stake was approved on Christmas day 1902. The population of the copper mining town never grew over 1000 people, but was a popular place for people to send their Christmas cards to be mailed from, just to have the “coveted” postmark bearing the name Christmas, Arizona. In 1935, the post office was closed and the town was officially abandoned in 1983.
About 300 miles northwest of Christmas is another festive-sounding holiday town: Santa Claus, Arizona, near Kingman in Mohave County. While its name invokes bags of presents from a jolly old elf, the place is as real today as The North Pole. The town was founded in the 1930s by California realtor Ninon Talbot who fancied herself a Mrs. Claus-type. She and her husband moved to Kingman and opened a hotel and when they heard the Hoover dam was to be built, creating a route to Las Vegas via Kingman, they bought up land with the idea of establishing a subdivision called Santa Claus Acres. It never happened, as the land had no water. Instead, she was able to build several Christmas-themed buildings, including a restaurant that served five-course holiday meals year-round and a Santa for kids to share their present-dreams with. The place made it into a 1950 short story by famed sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein called “Cliff and the Calories” and got a write up as a good place to eat when traveling route 66 by a famed restaurant reviewer. Like Christmas, Arizona, people from around the country mailed letters there to be postmarked and sent out from Santa Claus. But the glory didn’t last and the only residents of the town were people who worked there. Eventually, the restaurant and shops were abandoned. Now, only vandalized frames of the one-time Santa-devoted town remain visible as cars race towards Vegas from elsewhere in Arizona.
ABout 280-miles to the east of Santa Claus sits Snowflake, Arizona in the Silver Creek Valley of the White Mountains. The story of Snowflake is much different from the other holiday-themed towns on this list. The name comes from two prominent families that established the town: the Snows and the Flakes. Mormon settlers Erastus Snow and William Jordan Flake are noted as the Navajo County town founders dating back to 1878. Arizona’s U.S. Senator Jeff Flake is from Snowflake and is the great grandson of founder William Flake. The Snows and Flakes were “sent by the Mormon Church President Brigham Young to establish religious colonies throughout the southwest,” according to the town’s Chamber of Commerce. More than 5,000 people call Snowflake home today. And unlike the two other winter-named themed towns above, it actually snows in Snowflake, Arizona.
- Article: East Valley Tribune “Ghost town named after Christmas is also a reminder of mining era” by Marija Potkonjak from December 19, 2005.
- Book: A Place Called Peculiar: Stories about Unusual American Place-Names by Frank K. Gallant, 2002, pages 13-14.
- Article: Arizona Daily Star “Mine Tales: Christmas Mine got its name on the day of the holiday” by William Ascarza from December 23, 2013.
- Article: Arizona Highways “Santa Claus, Arizona: A Brief History” from December 21, 2015.
- Article: True West Magazine “Santa Claus, Arizona” by Marshall Trimble from December 23, 2016.
- Book: The Route 66 Cookbook: Comfort Food from the Mother Road by Marian Clark, 2003, p. 191.
- Article: AZcentral.com “People allergic to the world flock to Snowflake, Arizona” by Elizabeth Armstrong Moore from July 16, 2013.
- Website: Visit Arizona “Snowflake”
- Website: Snowflake/Taylor Chamber of Commerce “Our Communities”
A version of this story first appeared on the Arizona Name Stories Instagram storytelling project page:@AZnamestories. This story is part of the project that explores the history of names in Arizona and that is also asking citizens of Arizona of all ages, cultures, backgrounds to share their own name story. If you’d like to submit your name story (and you’re from AZ or currently are a resident), read the instructions at AZnamestories.com. We welcome your participation. (Not all stories from the Instagram page will be posted on Names Redefined.)