A Florida Favorite for Holiday Postmarks and "Santa’s Mailbox" — a Hotline to the Big Guy in Red
There’s no arguing you won’t find any snow-covered cabins or cozy B&Bs blanketed in white snuggled in the mountains or even foothills of Florida because there simply aren’t any. But that’s the picture-postcard image conjured up by millions when thinking about Christmas-y destinations. So what’s a Floridian looking for some holiday cheer to do?
Regardless of elevation, or lack of it, central Florida’s east coast has plenty of season spirit, and it isn’t just limited to the holidays. In one small town by the name of Christmas—yes, Christmas, Florida—the yuletide vibe is embraced all year long, and a towering perpetual Christmas tree adorned with bulbs and garland stands testament to its name and spirit.
Located along State Road 50, roughly 40 miles from Cocoa Beach, it’s a quick 45-minute drive to this tiny burg named for the supply fort that was originally constructed back in 1837 on Christmas Day. It was during the second Seminole Indian War when some 2,000 U.S. soldiers and Alabama volunteers arrived to build the fort, a full-sized replica of which stands upon the site today. According to resident and historical society member Becky Hamilton, “The town started with 21 pioneer families. There are still descendants living in the community today.”
While many individuals and families sojourn throughout the year to see Fort Christmas Historical Park, with its well-maintained grounds, museum and early pioneer structures, most folks visit during the holiday season—December specifically—to take part in the annual event known as the Cracker Christmas celebration. Scheduled for Dec. 1-2, this year marks the 41st anniversary of the megapopular tradition.
The park’s 25 acres include three large picnic pavilions with grills and ample seating, a children’s playground, basketball and tennis courts, and a small baseball field. Entrance to the two-day event is free, and attendance figures reach between 40,000 and 60,000. There’s lots of food, pioneer demonstrations, a huge craft fair, an antique engine and tractor display, and the Christmas Post Office even has a booth set up so you can get your Christmas cards hand-stamped while you’re there, beating the crowds mid-month.
That’s the other reason people make the trip to Christmas—and probably the most common—is to visit the famous post office in person. In addition to getting your cards and packages stamped with the official Christmas, FLA., postal mark, kids can mail their letters directly to Santa in a specially marked box located inside. There’s also a fun red-ink Santa stamp you can have applied as well, just to make it super-duper extra official. For the curious-minded, the hundreds of letters “Santa” receives are answered by local plant workers who kindly volunteer their time—but let’s keep that on the Q.T. The kids don’t need to know.
If the thought appeals to you, be aware that it appeals to a lot of other Christmas revelers, too. By Dec. 4, the holiday mail starts rolling in and continues till Christmas Eve, depending on which day it falls (if it’s a Sunday, then the last day for postmarks is the 23rd). On average, about 1,000 pieces of mail go through the Christmas post office each day during the month of December, with the busiest often being around the 18th.
But there’s more to do there than just visit the post office and historical park. The town of approximately 1,150 residents is full of fun sights, like the enormous year-round Christmas tree situated at the corner of State Road 50 and Fort Christmas Road. Accompanied by a small nativity scene, a jolly Santa and a bright red wooden sleigh, a nearby sign explains that the tree is “the symbol of love and good will: the Christmas Spirit every day in the year.”
There are also a handful of little shops in the area with Christmas-inspired themes and business signs, as well as street signs with names like Reindeer Road, Bethlehem, Comet, Rudolph, Candy Cane, Frosty, Cupid, Blitzen, St. Nicholas, Sleigh Bell and several others. Kids and the young at heart will get a kick out of these.
Not that it’s much of a drive, but if you’ve come all that way and you still want something to do but you’re already Christmased out, there are a number of other activities to consider. The fort and consequent town were built on the St. Johns River, so you’ve got airboat rides to book; local wetlands to explore; and even a nearby gator farm boasting “the world’s largest gator,” swamp cruises and wildlife shows. (Who’d have guessed it in Florida, right?)
While not everyone’s cup of tea, if you’re into the historical aspect of the fort and its carefully restored dwellings (complete with period furnishings and authentic artifacts), you might be interested in the Fort Christmas Cemetery, with its cool pioneer-feel ironwork entrance and weathered markers. This is always a draw for fans of gravestone rubbings looking for unique inscriptions and early dates to capture.
So, if you’re counting off the days with the fervor of a young child armed with an Advent calendar, you might as well make it a full-on Cracker Christmas celebration in ZIP code 32709 where it truly is Christmas each and every day of the year, Virginia.
For more information, refer to the following resources:
Christmas, Florida, Post Office
23580 E. Colonial Drive (State Road 50), 407.568.2941
Fort Christmas Historical Park (Orange County Parks & Recreation)
1300 Fort Christmas Road, 407.254.9312, OrangeCountyFL.net/cultureparks/parks