Experience. Smithton’s Sue Popowski has pulled Santa’s beard and guess what – it’s real!
Together with husband Ashley, Sue was at the North Pole in Alaska in July, stopping in at the ‘Santa Claus House’ to say g’day to the big man in red.
The small city, with its population of just over 2000, has made quite a name for itself with its festive-themed streets and of course its large Santa shop.
“It started off with a man making toys there and they developed it into a tourist attraction,” says Sue.
“It was just amazing, a real magical land.
“The whole town was decorated as Christmas. Even the McDonald’s sign was a candy cane!”
A step inside Santa’s house is every child’s – and adult’s – dream turned to reality.
“The shop itself was just like walking into a wonderland, any kid that walked in would be mind-blown!”
Of all the things that she saw, Sue was most surprised to see Santa in green. “This is my summer uniform!” he told her.
Whilst there, the Popowskis had time to deliver handwritten letters from their grandchildren, Bridie, 9, Clancy, 6, and Charlie Payne, 3. As well as letters from the girls’ Forest Primary School classmates. That is 60-odd letters packed in a suitcase and flown all the way from Australia to be delivered specially to 101 St Nicholas Drive, North Pole, Alaska.
Santa’s little helpers told the couple, “We get millions of these, pot luck if you get a letter back.”
So far, the children have been lucky with Clancy, Bridie and the 3/4 class receiving letters.
In her letter to Santa, Bridie thanked him for “the books last Christmas” and sent him well wishes, including “I hope the reindeers are healthy”.
She signs off with “P.S. I’ve been a very good girl.”
Mum Toni Popowski said her daughters were “over the moon” to hear back from Santa.
“Clancy said it made her smile and Bridie has put the workshop on her list of places to visit,” Toni says.
As for Bridie’s classmates, FPS 3/4 teacher Amy Phillips said the students were thrilled to receive the package.
“I read [the sender address] out to the students and all of their faces lit up. It was beautiful.”
Inside the envelope was a photo of Santa, a ‘I’m on the good list’ sticker, a ‘One Santa Dollar’ bank note and the eagerly awaited letter.
The letter read: ‘Some children stand out as always doing their best. I’ve noticed that everyone in your class is that kind of worker: helpful, diligent and ready to follow directions. Mrs Santa reminded me to write and let you know how proud we are of you. I am happy to tell you that I find all of your names on my good list. I congratulate all of you! Keep up the good work!’
“At this point all the students cheered and danced!” Miss Phillips said.
“The remainder of the letter talked about life at the North Pole. They absolutely loved it and were buzzing afterwards.”
During their trip, Sue and Ashley enjoyed various tours including one to the Rocky Mountains in Canada, the Inside Passage of Alaska where they cruised around glaciers, and they also flew over the Arctic Circle. They met locals who live off the grid on remote land, and experienced the sled dogs in training, pulling four-wheel bikes in the summer.
“The snow came and the dogs were so excited, they were yelping – this is our fun time!” Sue says, and fortunately for the pups, snow time in Alaska can last up to eight months.
“It was just beautiful; we were blown away by Alaska. It was so remote, as big as it is, there’s only as many people as there are in Tasmania.”