It’s that time of year again as Yellowstone celebrates Christmas in August.
The celebration, which involves Christmas trees and holiday cookies in every hotel in the Park, has been an annual tradition for decades. Its origins, however, are murky at best.
One popular myth is that a group of stagecoach travelers were stranded in the Old Faithful Inn by a sudden snowstorm, prompting them to make the most of it with a Yuletide celebration.
The more probable origin story, however, is that the tradition arose out of employee celebrations at the end of the summer season. While the normally perspicacious Aubrey L. Haines (Yellowstone’s first historian) admitted he had no clue when the festivities began, he did confirm that the celebration was originally a “savage” tradition—savages being what the Yellowstone employees called themselves and enjoyed having people call them in turn.
The celebration flourished as “Savage Day” in the 1940s and early 50s, before concessionaires, afraid the celebrations would impact visitors to the Park, briefly banned it. It didn’t take long, however, for concessionaires to come to their senses and make the tradition official. Indeed, you can read a summary of old Christmas in August traditions above from the early 1980s, courtesy of the Hamilton Stores.
Alas, there used to be more pomp and circumstance with the Park’s Christmas celebrations, as related by that Hamilton reader. Most notably: choirs would perform Mandel’s “Messiah” in Mammoth, Old Faithful, Canyon, and Lake Hotels—a tradition from the early 50s until the early 1990s.
Which isn’t to say Yellowstone’s Christmas in August isn’t festive. Indeed, it’s a unique celebration well worth commemorating.
This year, at least, it may have a little competition. August 25th also commemorates the founding of the National Park Service, and this year is the NPS Centennial.