When Christmas Surprises You

Yellowstone Christmas in August

Dad and I crossed the steamy asphalt, melty ice-cream cones in hand. We’d driven cross-country to Yellowstone for a nature-writing seminar and stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs for two reasons: huckleberry ice cream and piano music. The ice cream was a sure thing. The piano music, though? That was a different story. Randy played four or five nights a week and we weren’t sure this was one of them.

It’s a stop I make every time I’m in Yellowstone.

I heard Randy—or his music anyway—before I saw the piano that poured forth something different from his usual blend of catchy, pop music and original, Yellowstone-inspired pieces. It was something I vaguely recognized but couldn’t quite place.

Dad and I walked through the lobby, its familiar surfaces festooned with greenery and bows that we weren’t used to seeing, toward the source of the music. Randy sat just inside the double doors of the historic hotel’s Map Room. He was wearing a tie. I’d never seen Randy in a tie.

It was a Christmas tie.

The song I’d recognized but couldn’t place? It was a Christmas carol.

And the festooned lobby? Christmas finery.

In August. August 25, to be exact. Christmas in Yellowstone.

The story goes that once upon a time, Yellowstone had received one of its fairly common summer snows. But it didn’t fall on just any day. It fell on the twenty-fifth. Never mind that it was August; there was snow. People—maybe wide-eyed tourists, maybe homesick park employees—got a little festive, celebrating and decorating and sparking a tradition that continues today. (And lest our modern cynicism convince us that it’s a tradition centered on commerce, today’s celebrations are more about a little extra fun for park visitors than sale prices in the gift shops.)

I’d worked in the park. I knew the story. Still, it caught me by surprise.

How could Christmas in the high summer in the middle of a national park do anything but?

 

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