Telling Alaska’s Story: Visiting Santa Claus House in North Pole

Santa Claus House has been run by one family for nearly 70 years
Published: Dec. 20, 2021 at 8:48 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Outside of a once-tiny building in North Pole, you’ll find running reindeer, a giant Santa, and a massive tree covered in white lights. However, this isn’t only their home for the holidays.

Instead, a family tradition in the Fairbanks area has evolved into a permanent attraction, bringing millions of people through the tiny town in the Interior, mainly in pursuit of a visit with one particular character: Santa Claus.

In 2022, it will have been 70 years since the founding of what is now known as Santa Claus House in North Pole. While the building itself is different from the original — a new storefront, which has also since been expanded, was developed when the state rerouted the Richardson Highway in 1972 — the magic has remained, if not multiplied.

“I think our biggest thing we do here is joy,” said the resident Santa at Santa Claus House. “We try to bring joy to people — little ones, old ones, young ones, tourists — all over the world. And of course, creating memories.”

Despite its current focus on holiday treasures, and the storied visits with the big man in red, Santa Claus House actually began as more of a trading post.

Con and Nellie Miller, who are said to have arrived in Alaska in 1949, created a general store that quickly became a go-to source for groceries, gatherings, and even mail pickups, as the location also served as North Pole’s first post office for a couple of decades, according to the Santa Claus House website.

As the story goes, each Christmas, Con would also don a red, white-edged suit, becoming the first Santa many of the local kids had ever seen.

“Con and Nellie Miller moved to the Interior in 1949,” explained Santa Claus House Operations Manager Paul Brown. “And they had essentially $1.80 in their pockets, and two hungry kids. So they decided they needed to do something to make some money.

“They started a trading post,” Brown continued, “and Con would visit local villages throughout Alaska. He was a merchant, a fur buyer, and would buy out merchandise from other little merchants. He actually found a red Santa suit in his merchandise and would dress up in the Santa suit and visit the villages.”

The Santa Claus House site also describes the story of its naming as follows: “One day, while hard at work on the new store, a young Alaskan boy recognized Con, and asked, ‘Hello, Santa Claus! Are you building a new house?’ Inspiration clicked; the new store would be called ‘Santa Claus House!’ … Inside, the store’s emphasis on Christmas delights slowly replaced the aisles of well-stocked canned goods.”

Santa Claus House has also remained very much a family business, Brown said, with four generations now participating in running it.

Now, decades later, millions of people have made their way through Santa Claus House, with an astounding hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa received there each year.

“It really is a special place to come in,” Brown said. “You can’t help but be happy when you walk into Santa Claus House.

“And having been here for 70 years, you really see all the different generations come through here,” he added. “Grandparents that come in all the time, they came when they were little kids, brought their children here, and now they’re bringing their grandchildren in here.”

There are hopes of expansions, Brown said, though he did not go into detail as to what they might entail.

For now, Santa said that while many people may find it difficult to see the light these days, he hopes everyone will spread joy as best they can.

“Here’s what I say, and I mean it,” he said. “Keep faith. Keep hope in your hearts. Smile, because — you know — fake it till you make it. Keep a smile on your face and others will smile back. Greet others with kindness, they will greet you with kindness, and it’s contagious.”

Mrs. Claus said simply being in North Pole at Santa Claus House is a privilege.

“This brings us happiness and joy,” she said, “and we love giving that back to the little ones, young, old — whether they’re children all the way up to the ones that come up and say, ‘I’m 91, can I sit on your lap, Santa?’ It just brings joy to your heart.”

Brown said recent tallies have shown about 500,000 letters received annually at Santa Claus House over each of the past several years.

To learn more about Santa Claus House, check out its website.

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