Where Christmas Comes From
Photo By: Indiana County Christmas Tree Growers' Association
Photo By: Ecke Ranch
Photo By: Ocean Spray
Photo By: ©iStockphoto.com/Lauri Patterson
Photo By: ©iStockphoto.com/dulezidar
Photo By: ©iStockphoto.com/arinahabich
Photo By: Hallmark
This unassuming town in Pennsylvania's coal country bills itself as "the Christmas tree capital of the world." According to local lore, a group of enterprising Indiana County gentlemen were the first to grow Christmas trees as a crop back in 1918. The area still grows more than a million pines, firs and spruces commercially every year.
But perhaps Indiana's most famous Christmas-related product is native son Jimmy Stewart, star of the iconic holiday film It's a Wonderful Life. Indiana holds an annual festival and parade in mid-November named after the film.
Curiously, even though Christmas derives its identity from snow and cold, one of the most recognizable emblems of the season is flamboyantly tropical: the poinsettia. Encinitas is home to the world's largest grower of these stunning plants, Ecke Ranch, which produces 70 percent of the poinsettias sold in the United States. Ecke Ranch grows a rainbow assortment of colors, including traditional reds, pinks and creams, and a recently introduced bright-white variety called Polar Bear whose sales benefit the conservation of these endangered animals.
You'll likely find a touch of Middleborough on your holiday dinner table: It's the cranberry capital of the world. The Ocean Spray company, headquartered here, is surrounded by acres of cranberry bogs and still gets much of its crop from area families who have been in the business for generations.
If you're going to make a top-notch fruitcake, you might as well do it in Georgia, where you can't shake a stick without hitting a pecan tree. That's the theory in the tiny town of Claxton, co-fruitcake capital of the world, which boasts only 2,200 people but two high-volume fruitcake companies: Claxton Bakery, Inc. and Georgia Fruit Cake Company. They're both descended from an original bakery opened in 1910 by an Italian immigrant and pastry chef, Savino Tos, and together they produce more than six million pounds of fruitcake per year.
Something delicious is always cooking in Corsicana at Christmastime, and fortunately you can taste a little no matter where you are. Corsicana is home to the Collin Street Bakery, which rivals the Georgia producers in fruitcake volume. Order the DeLuxe Fruitcake direct from the company – they recommend you soak it in cognac, brandy, red wine or port for at least five days before sampling.
You'll also find one of Russell Stover's candy factories on Pecan Delight Avenue: Corsicana is where the company makes its cream-filled chocolate Santas. (Coconut, maple, strawberry or raspberry, if you're tasting them in your head.)
Since 1920, Hammond's Candies in Denver has been churning out hand-pulled lollipops, peppermint pillows and its world-famous candy canes, which can be found everywhere from the United States to Italy to Dubai. While the company has grown from just one worker – founder Carl Hammond – to more than 120 employees, every piece of candy is still made in Hammond's factory in the Mile-High City. Hammond's now offers free tours of its facilities and holds a Candy Cane Festival each December.
Kansas City, Mo.
"On January 10, 1910, a teenager from Nebraska stepped off a train in Kansas City, Mo., with little more than big dreams and two shoeboxes of picture postcards." Want to know how this story turns out? Just open your mailbox in December. That sentence opens the corporate history of Hallmark, the greeting-card giant still run by the grandsons of that teenager, Joyce Clyde Hall – and still going strong in Kansas City, sending millions of messages of good cheer at the holidays and all year long.