-- Ask for directions to a hardware store in Santa Claus, Indiana, and you may be told to take Candy Castle Road, Mistletoe Drive, Sleigh Bell Lane, or Christmas Boulevard before you arrive at Santa’s Hardware store.
In the town of less than 3,000 residents, the spirit of Christmas does not begin on Dec. 1 nor end on Dec. 25.
The town’s post office receives around 400,000 pieces of mail each holiday season, a Santa Claus spokeswoman told ABC News.
Each piece of mail gets a special postmark, for free, that is designed by a local high school student each year.
The post office was incorporated in 1856, so locals believe the town was named Santa Claus a few years prior.
The legend goes that locals were trying to come up with a town name when children heard sleigh bells outside and proclaimed, “Santa Claus,” thereby naming the town.
Pat Koch, an 85-year-old who has spent nearly her whole life in Santa Claus, is known as the town’s “Chief Elf.”
Koch oversees an annual operation of more than 100 volunteers who send hand-written replies to the more than 20,000 letters that are sent to Santa Claus on average each holiday season.
“I think the miracle of all of it is that children still believe in the time of such access to information,” said Koch, who said letters come from around the world, and from adults too. “We know when that child gets the letter and opens it, that that will be a wonderful part of Christmas.”
Koch explained that volunteers use four templates to reply to the letters.
“One says, ‘Sometimes Santa can’t send you everything you want,’” Koch said. “That’s for the child that sends in a four-page letter.”
For the residents of Santa Claus, the town’s namesake is a very real entity whom they see every day in local stores like Holiday Foods, Santa’s Car Care, Kringle Place, Evergreen Boutique and Frosty’s Fun Center. There are also statues of Santa Claus all over town.
“He’s a local. He lives here and people address him as Santa,” said Melissa Brockman, executive director of the Spencer County Visitors Bureau and a lifelong resident. “You can see Santa in street clothes and kids and families know that’s Santa.”
She added, “There’s no question about it.”
Hundreds of miles away, in Santa Claus, Georgia, residents there also have a real-life Santa who keeps the Christmas spirit alive all year.
“I love it,” said Sue Grisham, who has lived in the small town of around 200 residents for 50 years. “I live on the corner of December Drive and Sleigh Street.”
Grisham, the town’s clerk, said the town was incorporated in 1941 as Santa Claus. Legend has it that a pecan orchard owner was trying to think of a way to market the pecans and came up with Santa Claus as a way to get people to stop in the town.
The town has a famous chapel that is open 24 hours a day and is surrounded by Santa’s Gardens and a reindeer walking trail. The address for Santa Claus’s city hall is 25 December Drive.
Hundreds of people flock to the town each year to drop their Christmas letters in the town’s mailbox, which says, “Believe.”
“We read about how people drive from all over the state to mail their Christmas cards there,” said Kelli McCormick, who traveled to Santa Claus from her home in Georgia this year to do the same. “It’s very festive.”
Georgia is also home to a town named after one of Santa's reindeers, Dasher. Across the U.S., there are 12 towns with the name Holly, as well as a Rudolph, Wisconsin; North Pole, Alaska; Noel, Missouri; and Snowflake, Arizona, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.