CHRISTMAS, Fla. – Relaxing at a picnic table outside the Christmas Grocery, which sits a few blocks from the Christmas RV Park and a short distance from a Christmas tree and nativity scene that remains on display all year long, John Boys reminisces about life in a Central Florida community that shares the name with his favorite holiday.
"I've been here 38 years," said Boys, a local handyman. "I love it. It's the country out here. A quiet way of life. We all look out for each other."
Boys, who said he's been called "Santa Claus" because of his long blond and gray beard, also enjoys the festive decorations that adorn this rural Orange County neighborhood located 25 miles east of Orlando.
[PHOTOS: Scenes from Christmas, Florida]
After driving past the Christmas Community Center, where a plywood cutout of Santa Claus greets motorists along State Road 50, visitors arrive at the Christmas Post Office.
Inside, children place their letters to Santa in a special mailbox while their parents wait in line to get holiday greeting cards postmarked with a stamp confirming they were sent from "Christmas, Florida."
Next door, a sign in front of the Fort Christmas Baptist Church reminds residents of the upcoming tree lighting ceremony.
Some of the people who call Christmas home live on roads with names such as St. Nicholas Avenue, Rudolph Street and Santa Way.
Technically not a town since it does not have its own local government, this area of unincorporated Orange County was named after a nearby fort built during the Second Seminole Indian War.
About 2,000 U.S. Army soldiers began constructing the fort on Dec. 25, 1837, as part of their effort to push the Seminole tribe into a reservation west of the Mississippi River.
"Today we finished our fort which we called Fort Christmas having commenced it on that day," U.S. Army Capt. Nathan S. Jarvis wrote in a journal on Dec. 27.
Never used in combat, troops abandoned Fort Christmas only three months after building it.
Although the original fortification no longer exists, a replica of Fort Christmas was constructed nearby in the 1970's.
Now operated by Orange County Parks and Recreation, Fort Christmas Historical Park features a walk-through fort with historical displays, a traditional "Cracker" house, sugar cane mill, schoolhouse and several pioneer homes.