- Written by Todd Moning
Instead of Santa and colored lights, this town evokes images of slot machines and snowmobiles.
“We do have roadside Santas, a few Christmas stores and signs up year-round, but it’s basically not as Christmassy as you would expect,” said Sue Bowers. She and her husband, Bob, own Bay Watch Resort cottages overlooking Munising Bay and Grand Island.
A casino, a holiday-themed mall and a popular steakhouse are within easy walking distance in Christmas. In winter, visitors can rent a snowmobile and experience a cold-climate view of tall pines, rolling terrain, and waterfalls turned to spectacular columns of ice.
“The only reason we have the name Christmas,” Bob said, “is it’s such a unique name and because of the way the town started.”
It was named in 1938 by Julius Thorson of Munising, who had built a roadside factory to make holiday gifts. The factory burned down in 1940 and never was rebuilt.
Bob describes the town today as small but growing. “Christmas is in the development stages. We’ve been here for seven years and it’s changed dramatically. Nobody has really has taken advantage of the name yet, but I think it will happen.”
The Christmas Mall abounds with Christmas ornaments, decorations, hats, T-shirts, sweat shirts, candles, pottery, jewelry and postcards. The proprietor, Karen Beauchaine, plans to open a homemade ice cream shop next to the mall in spring 2003.
Inside the Mall, which is open year-round, is a U.S. post office where visitors can have cards and letters hand-cancelled with the Christmas, Mich., cancellation mark. To have your cards cancelled by mail, affix sufficient postage and place them in a large envelope or small box. Mail it to:
Christmas Post Office
E7989 W. M-28
Christmas, MI 49862
Place your bets
Kewadin Christmas Casino is about a block away from the Christmas Mall. The casino expanded in 2001 and is a center of activity with poker, blackjack and more than 200 slot machines. It offers free shuttle service to and from local campgrounds. “Rebuilding the casino was a tremendous help in revitalizing the town,” Bob Bowers said. “It’s a very nice place to go.”
Another sign of growth in Christmas, he said, is the 48-unit Pair-a-Dice Motel, which opened in 2002. “I’m hoping that over the next five to 10 years, the town will continue to grow, but right now there isn’t a whole lot of property along M-28 that is zoned commercial,” Bob said.
Adjacent to the casino is the popular Foggy’s Steakhouse. Patrons can choose and cook their own steak or try the whitefish and trout, which are caught locally.
Carr Lake Development, known for its fall colors and scenic views for sightseers, is within walking distance of the casino. It has thousands of acres of forestland for hiking, hunting and wildlife watching.
You won’t get bored
More activities await just outside of Christmas. Lake Superior beaches are only a few miles away. Pictured Rocks Golf and Country Club in Munising is open to the public. Or, catch a ferry or private watercraft to Grand Island National Recreation Area, which offers great spots for hiking, fishing, skiing, snowmobiling and mountain biking.
Just east of Christmas, at the west entrance to Munising Harbor, is Grand Island West Channel Lighthouse. Also called “Rear Range Light,” the inactive, cast-iron structure is accessible by car or motorhome. Built in 1868, it is often decorated for the holidays.
A wonderland for snowmobiling
In winter, Christmas, a town of about 400 people, transforms into Snowmobileville.
Bob Bowers has been snowmobiling for 22 years. It’s the reason he moved to Christmas in the first place. “It’s so beautiful out there in the winter,” he said. “Most everything you can see in the summer, you can see in the winter. And you get a whole different perspective because everything’s frozen.”
Ed Nedeau, owner of Christmas Sports Outlet on M-28, rents snowmobiles for $140 to $160 a day and sells new sleds as well. He said plentiful snowfall -- Alger County averages 120 to 140 inches annually -- and Christmas’ central location in the Upper Peninsula make Christmas appealing to snowmobilers. “We always have good snow. When everyone else has slim to none, we always have good snow.”
Easy to ride, but dress warmly
The average age of snowmobilers is about 42, Nedeau said, adding that the sleds aren’t difficult to ride. “There is a little technique to it -- you have to lean a little bit at times. But just like a car, you press the gas and it goes. And you have a brake … those are the only real things to worry about.”
The Munising Ranger District oversees six groomed and marked trails that cover 55 miles. The seven-mile Christmas trail leads from the outskirts of Christmas to Munising and connects to other routes in Alger County.
Armed with a map, snowmobilers can start out from Christmas and see plenty of wonderful scenery, all in a day’s trip, Nedeau said.
While out on the trails, staying warm is key, Bowers said. “You have to make sure you get the right gear on. If you’re dressed properly, you can stay out there a long time and not get cold.”
Christmas Sports Outlet rents snowmobile suits, gloves and helmets. All of the sleds have hand warmers and thumb warmers, Nedeau said.
Campground sits on historic site
Bay Furnace Campground (906-387-2512) in Christmas is situated on the site of the iron-smelting town of Onota. Fire destroyed the town in 1877, but a stone blast furnace built to make iron still stands and is the centerpiece of the Bay Furnace Interpretive Site. Bay Furnace campground is closed during winter. Reservations are not required.