A Small Mining Community with a Unique Holiday History
Few places, if any, throughout the Southwest could ever be mistaken for anything resembling the North Pole. Through most of the twentieth century, however, for one small mining community in Gila County it was always Christmas (Arizona, at least).
In the early 1880s, minerals were found in Gila County’s Dripping Spring Mountains. Shorty thereafter, though, it was discovered that those early claims resided within the boundaries of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation and all mining operations were forced to shut down. After the lines were re-surveyed, President Theodore Roosevelt issued a simple, one-sentence executive order on December 22, 1902, redrawing the boundary and returning much of the contested land back to public domain.
The popular story goes that two opportunistic claim jumpers by the names of George Chittenden and N.H. Mellor wasted no time once they heard the news of the change, and headed to the site of previous mineral discovery on Christmas Eve with the intent of staking their claims the next day.
“But it was Christmas Day in the morning, so we filled our stocking and named the place Christmas in honor of the day,” said Mellor a few years later.
The town of Christmas was nothing short of a typical mining community, just with an atypical name. Its population peaked to about 1,000 residents by the 1920s, and early on boasted a dairy and meat market, a barbershop, a general store, and a Catholic school and church. The Christmas post office opened in 1905, and throughout December became swamped with mail from all over the country, as people would send their holiday cards and letters there to get the coveted “Christmas, Ariz.,” postmark before being re-mailed to their final destination.
The Christmas mine changed hands many times over the years, and declining copper prices caused operations to become undependable at best. The community never recovered from the Great Depression, and the post office closed its doors in 1935. The mine was converted to an open mining pit in the 1960s, but could never again sustain operations. The site closed for good and was abandoned in the early 1980s.
The site of Christmas, with a handful of its early structures still intact, sits about nine miles north of Winkelman, off of Arizona State Route 77. The road is access-restricted, however, as the site is privately held by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc.
More information on Christmas can be found at the Gila County Historical Museum in Globe, including historical documents and photographs. Additional information on the area and the museum can be found at GilaHistorical.com