Each year, thousands of people around the world mail their holiday cards and letters to the small town of Noel, Missouri, nestled along the banks of the Elk River in McDonald County. Since the early 1930's, it's been a tradition for the Noel Post Office, assisted by volunteers, to stamp all holiday mail with a special postmark. Those who have their cards stamped at Noel can choose from two different Christmas postmarks. One is red with a holiday wreath that says 'Noel: The Christmas City' and the other is a green Christmas tree that says "Noel: Christmas City of the Ozarks".
But many probably wonder how did Noel become known far and wide as the Christmas City and why?
Noel has long been a tourist destination, drawing travelers who seek a slower pace and beautiful Ozark scenery. With the Elk River and its tributaries Indian Creek and Big Sugar Creek at hand, Noel has also earned a reputation as the Canoe City of the Ozarks.
Most of the year, area residents pronounce the name of the small town as Noel (rhymes with mole) which is fitting because when founded, the city was named for a early settler named Bridges Noel. Noel was founded after the Kansas City, Pittsburg, and Gulf Railroad arrived by Thomas A. Marshall.
The clear waters of Elk River drew tourists and on the site of what later became known as Shadow Lake, the railroad built a club called the O Joe Fish Club. In 1925, Marx Cheney bought the property, dubbed it Shadow Lake, and the club brought in many revelers through the Roaring Twenties, World War II with soldiers stationed at Camp Crowder, and into the 1950's. It remains today, a local landmark. Fishing and the unspoiled natural beauty of the region brought other tourists into southern Missouri and to Noel. During the summer time, then and now, the rivers and creek fill with fishermen, canoe trips, and swimmers.
Until 1933, no one connected Noel to the Christmas holiday. That year, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt named Democrat Ed Rousselot. With a French heritage, Rousselot shared the meaning of Noel in French along with a different pronunciation, Noel to rhyme with bell in the French fashion.
His vision was to make Noel known as the Christmas season so he proposed the idea of a special Christmas postmark. To help spread the word, the town tried to enlist some celebrity help and they found it in singer Kate Smith.
Smith was a major recording star in radio and television with a career that spanned more than a half century. In the 1940's, Smith was a super celebrity, known as the 'First Lady of Radio'. Smith began mentioning Noel, using the French pronunciation in her radio broadcasts. "I'm dedicating this song to my friends in Noel, the Christmas City." Residents of Noel sent fruitcakes to Smith each year for many years. The most notable was a 300 pound fruitcake baked in a Christmas tree shaped pan in 1947.
Although the Christmas postmarks did little toward making Noel a winter tourist destination but the tradition did earn the town a new nickname as The Christmas City.
Other cities known for their connection to Christmas include North Pole, Alaska, North Pole, New York, Rudolph, Texas and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The Noel post office is located at 318 Main Street. Volunteers will be on hand to stamp cards through Christmas Eve.
In the past, as many as 50,000 cards have received the special Christmas postmark but the number has been declining as fewer people send out Christmas cards. Last year, the number was around 30,000 but the specially stamped cards still travel around the U.S. and even to several foreign countries.