9 Towns Across the World With Christmas-Themed Names

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In some towns, Christmas doesn’t only come once a year. In Christmas, Michigan, it’s a year-round presence. And that’s not the only municipality with a December 25-inspired name. Here are nine places named for Christmas across the globe:

1. SANTA CLAUS, INDIANA

A statue of Santa Claus stands above a ‘Welcome to Santa Claus, Indiana’ sign.

TENGRRL, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

There are actually several places in the U.S. named after St. Nick, but only one of them is famous for the Santa Claus postmark. That’s Santa Claus, Indiana, a city of just under 2500 people located in the southwest portion of the state. When settlers created the town in the mid-1800s, they were going to name it Santa Fe—but since another Indiana town already had that name, when the residents gathered one Christmas Eve to decide upon its permanent moniker, they went with the seasonally appropriate Santa Claus. Now, the city calls itself “America’s Christmas Hometown” and boasts Yuletide attractions like the Santa Claus Museum and Village, a hotel called Santa’s Lodge, the Santa Claus Christmas Store, and Santa’s Candy Castle, which claims the title of the first themed attraction in the U.S. Not to mention all the letters to Santa its post office receives each December.

2. BARRA DE NAVIDAD, MEXICO

A view from offshore of a beach in Barra de Navidad, Mexico.
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Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, a beach town on Mexico’s Pacific coast, is located along a sandbar—hence its name, which means Christmas Sandbar. The mellow town of about 5000 people was once a hub for Spanish ships. It was originally named Puerto de Navidad because the first Spanish explorers who landed there in the 1500s arrived on Christmas Day. The name was changed to Barra de Navidad once the town on the sandbar was built. Now, it's a fishing village and popular tourist destination whose picturesque beaches make it a perfect late-December getaway for those trying to flee cold weather.

3. CHRISTMAS, MICHIGAN

A sign reads ‘Welcome to Christmas, Michigan.’
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Christmas, Michigan, home to just 400 residents, was named for the holiday gift factory once located there. The town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is now a popular recreation area for snowmobile aficionados, and it takes full advantage of its Christmas legacy. With roadside Santa statues and its Santa-themed stores and signs, Christmas will never let you forget which holiday it’s named after.

4. NATAL, BRAZIL

A view across the skyline of Natal, Brazil
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Natal, which means Christmas in Portuguese, is a state capital on the easternmost tip of Brazil, and serves as South America’s closest point to Africa. Built just outside a 16th-century Portuguese fort called the Fortress of the Three Wise Men (also called the Three Kings Fortress), the city was founded on December 25, 1599. It has since become a popular beach destination for Brazilian tourists.

5. NORTH POLE, OKLAHOMA

An evelope that reads 'North Pole' sticks out from a red mailbox.
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Of all the places to name after the North Pole, you wouldn’t necessarily pick a tiny town in southeastern Oklahoma. Residents of the rural region aren’t sure how an Oklahoma town got an Arctic name. According to NewsOK, the late owner of the local North Pole Grocery thought it might have to do with the area being colder than other parts of the county, while other residents speculate that it could have been named for its out-of-the-way location, which might seem as far away as the North Pole for travelers.

6. SINT-NIKLAAS, BELGIUM

The town hall of Sint-Niklaas, Belgium seen from afar
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The East Flanders city of Sint-Niklaas gets its name from the church founded there in the early 13th century, not the jolly bearer of Christmas presents, but the town definitely knows how to appreciate Santa Claus—or rather, his predecessor, Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas). There’s a statue of the holiday figure posted outside the city hall year-round, and between November 12 and December 6 (Saint Nicholas’s Day), the city’s fine arts museum turns into the Huis van de Sint, or the “House of the Saint,” where kids can tour Sinterklaas’s house and meet the big guy himself. Sinterklaas comes to visit the children of Sint-Niklaas on the weekend prior to December 6, and local elementary schools get a three-day weekend so that kids can play with their new toys afterward.

7. NOEL, MISSOURI

A vintage postcard shows a highway leading into the town of Noel, Missouri.
OZARK POSTCARD PUBLISHERS, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The town of Noel wasn’t named after Christmas—the designation originally referred to local sawmill owners C.W. and W.J. Noel—but it has certainly embraced the association. In the 1930s, Noel’s post office began offering a Christmas postmark service, stamping cards and letters sent through the town with a Christmas-themed postmark that says “The Christmas City in the Ozark Vacation Land.” Each year, the post office receives around 50,000 pieces of mail from people all around the world asking for these stamps, and the local postmaster has to employ a team of volunteers to process them all in time for the holiday.

8. BETHLEHEM, PENNSYLVANIA

This Pennsylvania town owes the origin of its name to Christmas Eve. In 1741, a group of Moravians—a Protestant denomination founded in the 1400s—settled near the banks of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh River. These settlers had a patron, the German count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, and when he visited on Christmas Eve, 1741, he proclaimed that the town would be named Bethlehem. In 1937, Bethlehem’s chamber of commerce decided to make the most of the name, declaring it America’s Christmas City. It’s now known for its extensive annual Christmas market.

9. BETHLEHEM, WALES

A sign welcomes visitors to Bethlehem, Wales in both English and Welsh.

JOHN FINCH, Geograph // CC BY-SA 2.0

Pennsylvania isn’t the only place to lay claim to the Bethlehem name. Its Welsh compatriot, though, owes even more to the Christmas spirit. Bethlehem, Wales is a tiny village that boasted just 150 people in 2012. It’s so small, in fact, that in the 1980s, its only post office got shut down by budget cuts. But the high demand for the Bethlehem postmark forced it to reopen in 2002. Though it’s typically only open a few hours a week, in order to cope with the high volume of mail people send in during the Christmas season the post office has longer hours during the holidays.

See Which Ingredients Cooks From Around the World Love Most

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Food is incredibly regionally specific, and cuisines have been refined over millennia based on what ingredients have been available and what local cooks have come up with. Even though global trade has made the same spices and other flavor staples available virtually anywhere in the world, Mexican food still tastes radically different from Chinese food, and Italian food from Irish food. We know this intuitively—few of us pick up a bottle of soy sauce thinking we’ll use it in a traditional Italian pasta dish—but it’s still fascinating to see a breakdown of just which ingredients certain cuisines have cornered the market on, as you can in these charts.

Nathan Yau of FlowingData visualized the most-used ingredients in 20 different cuisines, using data on ingredients from Yummly to figure out what distinct flavors and ingredients country-specific cuisines gravitate towards.

Across the world, salt is king. It’s the most-used ingredient in 75 percent of the cuisines Yau looked at, and the only cuisine in which it doesn’t appear in the top five most-used ingredients is Korean food—but, like in other Asian cuisines, Korean recipes use soy sauce more than any other ingredient, and that in itself is very salty.

Because so many cuisines rely heavily on the same ingredients, like soy sauce and salt, Yau also calculated the ingredients most specific to each cuisine: the ones disproportionately used in one country’s traditional cuisine. This is where you start to get a picture of the kind of ingredients we associate heavily with particular regionally specific dishes. Mexican food relies on tortillas; Greek food, feta cheese; Korean, kimchi; Thai, lemongrass; Russian, beets; and Cajun, andouille sausage. Some ingredients may come as a bit of a surprise, though. Southern cooking in the U.S. uses vanilla extract more than other cuisines do, and the French love shallots. Cajun cooks are big fans of celery ribs, and somehow, though numerous cuisines use onions heavily, Brazilian cooks use them slightly more than anyone else.

The data relies on Yummly recipes, so the results are limited to what the recipe recommendation site has available. It's possible that home cooks working in each cuisine do something slightly different that might move the data in another direction. But, since Yummly currently has more than 2 million recipes available, it seems like a relatively large snapshot of cooking options.

Explore the interactive graphic and learn more at FlowingData.

13 Facts About Notre-Dame Cathedral

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Constructed between the 12th and 14th centuries, Notre-Dame de Paris has centuries of French history built into its stone. The Gothic cathedral reflects the prominent role of Paris as an economic and spiritual center in the 12th century, and its scars from the French Revolution are reminders of its long connection with the monarchy—a connection that almost resulted in its demolition. Yet although thousands of tourists enter its doors each day to photograph its rose windows and flying buttresses, this sacred destination still has its secrets. Here are 13 lesser-known facts about Notre-Dame de Paris.

1. A PAGAN CITY LIES BELOW THE CATHEDRAL.

The Île-de-la-Cité on which Notre-Dame de Paris now stands was once a Gallo-Roman city known as Lutetia. The cathedral may have been built right over remnants of a temple: Around 1710, pieces of a sculpted altar dedicated to Jupiter and other deities were discovered during an excavation under the choir (although it remains unclear if this is evidence of an ancient temple, or if the pieces were recycled there from another location). Additional architectural ruins found in the 1960s and '70s, many dating back to this ancient era, lie in the archaeological crypt located beneath the square just in front of Notre-Dame.

2. THERE'S SOME RECYCLED ARCHITECTURE ON ITS FAÇADE.

The Sainte-Anne Portal at Notre-Dame
The Sainte-Anne Portal at Notre-Dame

There are three portals on the western façade of Notre-Dame, each laden with sculpted saints and sacred scenes. One doesn't seem to fit, however—the Portal Sainte-Anne has a much earlier style than the rest. Its figures, such as the central Virgin and Child, look stiffer in their poses and less natural in their features compared to the other statues. That's because this tympanum, or semi-circular area of decoration, was recycled from a previous Romanesque church. A close examination in 1969 revealed that it was not originally made for this space, and had been adapted to fit the Gothic structure.

3. THERE'S A "FOREST" IN ITS ROOF.

The cathedral contains one of the oldest surviving wood-timber frames in Paris, involving around 52 acres of trees that were cut down in the 12th century. Each beam is made from an individual tree. For this reason, the lattice of historic woodwork is nicknamed "the Forest."

4. ITS FLYING BUTTRESSES WERE GOTHIC TRENDSETTERS.

Low angle view of the East end of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral at sunset with flying buttresses
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The cathedral was one of the earliest structures built with exterior flying buttresses. They were constructed around its nave in the 12th century to lend support to the thin walls, after the need for more light in the incredibly tall church required larger windows, and thus greater supports. The exposed flying buttresses became an iconic aspect of Gothic design, and although there's some debate over whether Notre-Dame was the first church to have them, they certainly set the trend in sacred architecture.

5. TWENTY-EIGHT OF ITS KINGS LOST THEIR HEADS IN THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

In 1793, in the midst of the French Revolution, 28 statues of biblical kings in the cathedral were pulled down with ropes and decapitated by a mob. (King Louis XVI was guillotined earlier that year, and any iconography tied to the monarchy was under attack.) The mutilated stones were eventually tossed in a trash heap, which the Minister of the Interior dealt with by ordering the material be repurposed for construction. It wasn't until 1977 that the heads of 21 of these kings were rediscovered during work on the basement of the French Bank of Foreign Trade. Now they're at the nearby Musée de Cluny.

6. THE TOWERS ARE NOT TWINS.

The two towers of Notre-Dame
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At first glance, Notre-Dame’s two towers appear like identical twins. Closer examination reveals that the north tower is in fact a bit bigger than the south. As with all the elements of the cathedral, they were built over time, and reflect how the cathedral is more of a collage of architectural trends and leadership than the culmination of one person’s vision.

7. ITS BELLS WERE ONCE MELTED DOWN FOR ARTILLERY.

The kings weren’t the only part of Notre-Dame destroyed during the French Revolution. The cathedral, like other churches around France, was transformed in the late 18th century from a Christian space and rededicated to the new Cult of Reason. All 20 of its bells—except the colossal 1681 bourdon called Emmanuel—were removed and melted down to make cannons.

While the bells at Notre-Dame were replaced in the 19th century, the new instruments were not as finely made as the older versions, and made a more dissonant noise when clanging. Finally, in 2013, a new ensemble of bells restored the cathedral to its 17th-century sound, with the deeply resonant Emmanuel still joining in the toll on special occasions.

8. NAPOLÉON AND VICTOR HUGO SAVED IT.

When Napoléon Bonaparte decided to have his 1804 coronation as emperor in Notre-Dame, the building was in bad shape. Centuries of decay as the city developed and changed around it, as well as the vandalism of the French Revolution, had left it on the verge of demolition. For years it had been used as little more than a warehouse. So when Napoléon declared its return to church use, and hosted his grand ceremony within his walls—an event in which he famously crowned himself—it brought Notre-Dame to new prominence.

Nevertheless, the coronation didn’t fix its structural deterioration. Then author Victor Hugo used the building as a personification of France itself in his 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris. (The book’s name is often translated as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, yet the hunchbacked bell ringer Quasimodo is not the main character; the central figure is Notre-Dame.) And Hugo vividly evoked its decrepit 19th-century state:

“But noble as it has remained while growing old, one cannot but regret, cannot but feel indignant at the innumerable degradations and mutilations inflicted on the venerable pile, both by the action of time and the hand of man, regardless alike of Charlemagne, who laid the first stone, and Philip Augustus, who laid the last. On the face of this ancient queen of our cathedrals, beside each wrinkle one invariably finds a scar. 'Tempus edax, homo edacior,' which I would be inclined to translate: 'Time is blind, but man is senseless.'”

The book was a success, and the momentum led to a major restoration overseen by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

9. ITS MONSTERS ARE MODERN, NOT MEDIEVAL.

Gargoyle and wide city view from the roof of Notre-Dame
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Some of the most popular images of Notre-Dame are from the perspective of its gargoyles or chimera (the carved monsters that don’t act as waterspouts). Few visitors would guess that the fantastic creatures now on the cathedral weren't there until the 19th century; they were added between 1843 and 1864 during the radical restoration overseen by Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc.

Hugo had described gargoyles extensively in Notre-Dame de Paris, and Viollet-le-Duc was reportedly inspired by this romantic vision of the past. A daguerreotype from before this overhaul shows a building more stark than the one we know today, with no beasts perched on its towers, its medieval gargoyles having long been removed. Unfortunately, many of the 19th-century gargoyles are now decaying; PVC pipes have taken the place of those that have been taken down for safety.

The gargoyles were far from the only fanciful addition by the architect Viollet-le-Duc. Among the 12 apostles he had installed around the new spire, he included himself as the face of Saint Thomas.

10. ITS SPIRE IS A SAINTLY LIGHTNING ROD.

Look way to the top of the spire and you'll spy a rooster. This is not a purely decorative bird. In 1935, three tiny relics—an alleged piece of the Crown of Thorns and some bits of Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve (the city's patron saints)—were secured inside the metal bird’s body. The idea, the story goes, was to create a sort of spiritual lightning rod to protect the parishioners within.

11. THE ORGAN IS THOUGHT TO BE THE LARGEST IN FRANCE.

The Notre-Dame organ involves almost 8000 pipes (some dating back to the 18th century) played with five keyboards, making it the biggest pipe organ in France (although some claim that Saint-Eustache has a larger one). While there are some slashes on the wood of the organ loft—damage from the French Revolution, when its fleur-de-lis symbols were carved off—it was restored in 2013 to mark the 850th anniversary of the cathedral.

12. ALL ROADS LEAD TO NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS.

Point Zero marker outside Notre-Dame in Paris
Jean-Pierre Bazard, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Mostly overlooked beneath the crowds of tourists milling around outside Notre-Dame is a diminutive circular marker with an eight-pointed bronze star embedded in the cobblestones. It’s engraved with the words Point zéro des routes de France, and is the point from which distances are measured from Paris to other cities in France. It was placed there in 1924, although it had to be temporarily dislodged in the 1960s during the excavations for what was intended to be an underground parking garage. Those construction plans were thwarted when workers turned up architectural ruins—now kept in the archaeological crypt.

13. BEES LIVE ON ITS ROOF.

On the Notre-Dame sacristy, adjacent to the cathedral, is a small hive of bees. It was installed in 2013, with Buckfast bees—a strain developed by a monk named Brother Adam and known for its gentleness—living in its hives. Their honey is made from the flowering plants in nearby gardens, including the Square Jean XXIII just behind the cathedral. According to The New York Times, the sweet stuff is given away to the poor.

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