CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS TWICE A YEAR: YELLOWSTONE’S CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST
If you are one of those people who are “all about Christmas” then you need to be in Yellowstone on August 25th.
That is when you will find Christmas Tree Rock. It is located in the middle of the Firehole River 3.1 miles south of the Madison Junction or 12.9 miles north of Old Faithful. Around August 24 some park employees ford the Firehole at Christmas Tree Rock carrying with them the appropriate decorations for the tree. They decorate the tree and “Christmas In August” is just around the corner.
There are several stories as to how this tradition of Christmas in August began. One popular story goes that on August. 24 sometime between 1930 and 1950, there was a freak snow storm in Yellowstone. Sufficient snow fell to keep the stagecoaches from returning visitors to West Yellowstone. The guests who has been stranded at the Old Faithful Inn decided to have a celebration. They obtained a tree, brought it into the lobby of the Inn and added appropriate Christmas decorations. They sang Christmas carols and participated in other Christmas traditions.
While this is a very entertaining story, there are no facts to confirm it. In fact, there are no weather records to show that there had ever been enough snowfall in Yellowstone at that time of the year to halt the movement of traffic.
I have seen Christmas Tree Rock with the remnants of decorations hanging on it so I know that the tree on the rock actually does get decorated during August.
Another popular theory is that students who had spent their summer working in Yellowstone decided to have a celebration on August 24 and 25 because they would be leaving for their homes the next day. It was a sort of last evening celebration before they left the park for the year.
The seasonal workers in the park back in those days were often referred to as “savages.” They referred to their annual end of the season celebration as Savage Days. They would dress up in silly costumes and hold increasingly elaborate parties and parades around the Old Faithful Inn ending with a costume ball in the Old Faithful Recreation Hall and more skits, dances, songs and partying. These celebrations, over the years, had a tendency to get a little out of hand and had become somewhat of a nuisance. In the early 1950’s the concessions managers were concerned that these celebrations were a bit disturbing to the guests as well as other workers. It was suggested that the revelers include all the workers at the Inn as well as the guests.
These celebrations generally occurred in late July or August. At some point in time (I could not pinpoint the exact time) the date of August 25 was set as the date for this celebration. (Possibly because August 25 marks the anniversary of the National Park Service.) The story goes that the concessions managers wanted to eliminate “Savage Days” in the park and shifted the celebration to an August 25 date. This eventually became known as “Savage Christmas”.
At that time there was no winter travel into the park so this August celebration gave the concession workers the opportunity to celebrate an early Christmas together before the Park closed for the winter the seasonal workers all headed to their respective homes.
No matter what the real story of the origin of Christmas in August is, it soon caught on with part employees and to this day they continue the tradition. Some of the employees and guides will don their Santa hats to add to the festive feel of the day. You may also see some short-lived Christmas displays in some of the stores in the Park. At the Inn you can participate in tree decorating, cookies and punch, Christmas music and a visit from Santa.
Yellowstone is not the only place in the area that celebrates Christmas in August. Many of the stores in West Yellowstone will decorate a Christmas tree as well as having Christmas displays.
The airport at West Yellowstone gets into the celebration in a big way. On August 24 employees at the airport will make their annual pilgrimage into the National Forest to select their tree. They will set it up in the waiting area inside the terminal. SkyWest Airlines decorates the tree with the usual lights, tinsel and ornaments. On August 24, starting at 11:30 there will be a potluck dinner hosted by the airport operations group as well as businesses including Avis and Budget Car Rentals, Yellowstone Aviation and SkyWest airlines. The public is cordially invited to stop by and say hello and Happy Holidays.
So – if Christmas is one of your favorite holidays – you might want to make your plans to celebrate twice this year. We would love to have you join in the celebration.
AUTHOR: SUSIE KNAPP