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It’s beginning to look a lot like Savage Christmas

30 August 2018

Picture the scene, if you will. You are in a cosy log building, all around you the comforting sounds of Christmas carols ring out and the tree is decorated to the nines in a stunning display of festive beauty. The majesty of nature is displayed through the windows in its full splendour, and you're feeling content and full of the Christmas spirit. Oh, and it's August, because you're in Yellowstone National Park, and it's time for what has become known as Savage Christmas.

There is a lot of folklore surrounding Yellowstone National Park, tales that were once told as simply tales have now become 'fact'. 'Old Faithful' Geyser does indeed erupt in semi-regular intervals, however the story goes that it erupts every hour, on the hour. Yellowstone is also referred to as 'Colter's Hell', after fur trapper John Coulter described an area similar to it in his travels, this is despite Colter's Hell is actually in Wyoming. The forest fires in Yellowstone in 1988 were down to the public, but in reality it's because Yellowstone likes to catch fire every few hundred years to keep things interesting.

But why am I talking about folklore when this blog is about Savage Christmas? Well, one of the best bits of 'folklore turned fact' about Yellowstone, is actually the origin of the celebration.

The story goes like this. Way back when, in the years between 1904 and 1941, a group of travellers became stranded at the Old Faithful Inn, because of an inexplicable blizzard trapping them there. In the style of making the most out of an extremely unlikely, possibly even made up situation, they decided that the snowy surrounds and the blazing fire was putting them in the festive spirit, so they obviously decided to celebrate Christmas.

For some reason, whoever came up with this Hallmark-friendly story of snow and happy times set it in a time period where weather records are readily available. We therefore know that this story, though delightful, can't have happened, as historically there has never been any blizzard in Yellowstone in August (though having said that, there was still a snowfall in Yellowstone in the August of 1932). Still, it's an enchanting tale of human positivity, and it's inspired the weirdest of Christmas celebrations, so who are we to complain.

The real story of Savage Christmas is less romantic. In mid-July, in order for stores to have a reason to put some sales on, there is actually a tongue-in-cheek celebration of Christmas that happens throughout America. There was also a celebration in Yellowstone that took place in August that was known as the 'Savage Days' where the employees of Yellowstone, affectionately known as 'Savages' would have a party. This was a wonderful celebration, with floats, parties, and parades, which had been celebrated in Yellowstone long before the invention of Savage Christmas. Finally, the 25th of August is also when the National Park service celebrates their birthday. And so, much like the early Christians smashed together the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, the Pagan Winter Solstice, and the celebration of Jesus' birth to create the Christmas we know and love, Yellowstone smashed all of these events together and made 'Savage Christmas'. You can sort of see why people prefer the 'travellers in a blizzard' story instead.

This lovely tradition continues today. Now, Yellowstone at any time of the year is a spectacular place to be. It is a complete and utter wilderness that lives by its own chaotic rules. Just to be surrounded by the epic peaks of the mountains, amongst the geysers that blast off at a moment's notice, and amidst the animals that very much take care of themselves with minimal human interception, it's obvious very little about the park has changed in the millions of years since it came about. The entire sensation can be altogether rather jarring, if it weren't for the slight signs of human life, such as nature trails and the occasional road.

So, if you visit in August, I suggest you head to the Old Faithful Inn. Not just because this century old lodge is pretty much everything you could hope for in a guest room; after all, it's the largest log hotel in the world, and comes complete with a beautiful old-west design of balconies, exposed wooden beams, and a huge fireplace. It's a magnificent contrast to the wild and isolated surroundings. But also because in August, this rustic retreat becomes a celebration of all things Christmas. With a huge tree, choirs, and, of course, a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, it is a quirky and unforgettable experience that has become dear to the hearts of visitors from all over the world, and a wonderful way to experience both natures majesty and humanity's optimism in one fell swoop.

And with that, I say a merry Savage Christmas to all, and to all a good night.