You can see the holiday spirit coming all the way from here to Christmas – Christmas, Arizona, that is. But you can’t go to Christmas anymore, nor can you mail your holiday cards from the U.S. Post Office there, because it closed in 1935.
For a state with such unusual locations as Big Bug, Bagdad, Gripe, and Snowflake (named after Erastus Snow and William Flake), it should come as no surprise that there once was a town called Christmas, Arizona. It all began when prospectors filed copper mining claims in the southern tip of the Dripping Springs Mountains about six miles northeast of Winkelman between 1878 and 1882. But the land was inside the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, and it didn’t seem too promising at the time anyway. The mines were considered duds. However, like telephones and electric lights created demands for lower-grade copper wire in great quantities and Globe became a boomtown, miners cast a new eye on passed-over claims.
At the urging of mining entrepreneurs interested in Gila County claims, the United States Congress reduced the area of the San Carlos reservation in 1902, redrawing the borders to exclude the mineral-rich areas. According to Arizona Daily Star reporter David Wichner, one of these men, George B. Chittenden, set up a relay of horsemen so he would get the first news of the enactment from the nearest telegraph office in Casa Grande. This may be the same George Chittenden listed as the owner of a gold quartz mill in Bear Creek, Mariposa County, California, in 1864. In any case, he knew the mining business well enough to understand that filing the first claim on the best prospects made all the difference.
Chittenden learned about the newly opened land on Christmas Eve, and filed his claims on Christmas Day, which also happened to be his birthday. He became the first postmaster when a post office was established in Christmas on June 17, 1905.
For more than twenty years, Christmas was a thriving little mining community on the banks of the Gila River with more than 1,000 residents, a church, a school, a barbershop, and even a hat shop. Every year during the holiday's people from all over the country kept the post office busy stamping the official U.S. Post Office cancellation that read “Christmas” on their cards.
The mines closed during the Depression when copper prices dropped, but re-opened in the 1940s and continued to open and close with the boom and bust cycle common to western mining. They finally closed for good in 1983, again because of plummeting copper prices.
All that remains of the town now are holes dug into the mountainsides, concrete slabs that once supported heavy equipment, and a small graveyard. But you can’t even visit the remains of Christmas these days. Phelps Dodge acquired the property in 1999 and the sign on the locked gate stretched across the narrow dirt road says “No Public Access.” Perhaps as the demand for copper rises again with the huge worldwide demand for computers, Christmas may be reborn in Arizona. In the meantime, there are also towns named Christmas in Florida, Michigan, and Mississippi – and of course, North Pole, Alaska.