What better place to celebrate Christmas than in Yellowstone National Park! Vast expanses of snow, evergreen pines and bison laden with ice crystals, and slow drifts of thermal steam swirling into a full-moon night all combine to create a true winter festival. Christmas is also the real beginning of the park's winter visitation season. Visitors bring their families from across the country to observe Christmas in this winter wonderland.

But, not only do we get to enjoy a storybook Christmas here in the park, we get to celebrate it twice--once in December and once in August. Every August 25th, Christmas trees, colorful lights, festive decorations, and holiday music fill the park's lodges and hotels. While the Christmas in August tradition goes back quite a few years, finding documentation of its origin has proven difficult.

The most commonly heard story about this tradition is that near the end of August, sometime between the late 1930s and early 1950s, a bad snowstorm struck Yellowstone stranding visitors atOld Faithful. The winter scenery reminded them of a Christmas card, so to pass the time indoors, a Christmas celebration was held, complete with a decorated tree, songs, and a feast.

At that time,Yellowstone did not really have a winter season, so few visitors were in the park during December, and to celebrate the winter holiday in August seemed an exciting and fun thing to do. This is a good story, but it is probably untrue. There are no records that Christmas in August was celebrated as far back as the 1930s, and it is likely that a storm of sufficient severity to strand tourists at a later date would be documented.

Another possible origin of the Christmas in August celebration stems from the 1940s. It had long been a tradition for concession employees to entertain visitors in evening programs featuring music, skits, and dances. Some of the best programs took place at the old Canyon Lodge, where an especially creative woman named Martha "Marti" Gorder was in charge of entertainment. Christmas in August may have been one of her many ideas for special programs.

A more likely theory, though, is that concession employees from either Hamilton Stores or Yellowstone Park Company began the tradition in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Originally, concession employees may have celebrated Christmas among themselves in July, but at some point the party moved to August and may have been instituted to replace "Savage Day." (In the past, concession employees were referred to as "savages.")

Savage Day was a concession employees' party with parades and evening programs of skits, songs, and dances. These parties were probably getting out of hand. There are reports of employees wearing costumes to work, soliciting tips, and (likely) drinking and being wild. A memo from Huntly Child (owner of the Yellowstone Park Company) to the Old Faithful Lodge managers in 1947 states that the previous year's Savage Day celebration had resulted in "severe criticism" for its disruption of visitor services.

Consequently, it is possible that Christmas in August may have been established as a way to co-opt the celebration with a replacement party. If so, this explains why it was originally celebrated strictly among employees. A 1958 memo from the sales manager of the Yellowstone Park Company suggests extending the Christmas celebration to visitors as a means of "better employee relations and an enticement for guests to prolong [their]Yellowstonestay."

In 1949 a divinity student from Princeton and seasonal bellman at the Old Faithful Inn named Warren Ost recognized a need for a ministry in Yellowstone that coincided with the availability of divinity students like himself. When Ost returned to work in the park in 1950 with fellow student Donald Bower, he launched a "student ministry" that eventually became "A Christian Ministry in the National Parks."

The Yellowstone student ministers developed choral groups and then performed Handel's Messiah, a performance requiring significant practice time, enough that the performers needed until the end of the season.  The Messiah fit in nicely with the Christmas theme, and the party was moved from July to August 25, when it is still held.

No matter what the true origin, the results are still the same. Some years, you can drive by Christmas Tree Rock (3.1 miles south of the Madison Junction or 12.9 miles north of Old Faithful) and see a tall lodgepole growing out of a rock in the river festively decorated with bright red and green paper ropes and tinsel. 

Stop by the Old Faithful Inn for an early evening celebration of tree decorating, cookies and punch, music and a visit from Santa Claus. Friends also tell me how they have been surprised by the unexpected, but delicious Holiday meal of turkey and all the trimmings at Lake Lodge. And, don’t miss the fun at the West Yellowstone airport which puts up its own tree and decorations.

Christmas in Yellowstone…whether you come in August or in December, it’s a memorable tradition you don’t want to miss.

Interested in more? Check out this article - http://www.yellowstonegate.com/2012/12/savage-christmas-quirky-yellowstone-tradition-celebrated-each-august/