West Yellowstone welcomes millions of visitors during the summer season. Most people, however, avoid the town during the winter. It is harder to convince people to visit when the snow is piled up and temperatures reach well below 0°F. For many of us that are still around this time of year, we experience how peaceful and quiet the town is while blanketed in snow. Christmas lights brighten up the long nights and the Christmas Stroll is a community event not to be missed. Sure, we might complain when it is -37°F and snow-covered cars won’t start in the morning, but we take pride in sticking around when so few others do.
The holiday season in West Yellowstone has always been a magical time of year. Helen Eagle Glannon, whose parents Sam and Ida opened Eagle’s Store in 1908, reminisced fondly of Christmastime in West. “One of the biggest and most exciting part of our lives here as kids was the Christmas season and that was really just the most marvelous time. First of all, it wasn’t hard to believe in Santa Claus up here because there were no stores where we could see toys. In the fall, that was very early in the season when those catalogs came, we started going through them to decide what Christmas present we wanted. Somehow we didn’t connect this with Santa Claus, but we knew that we could go through the catalog and pick the one thing we wanted most… When we got up, we saw those things under the tree. We didn’t get many things beside the one present, but there would be candy and maybe a book or two”
“We helped put up the tree. We were allowed to go out in the woods and help pick it and that was usually a pretty big tree that went to the ceiling. We didn’t have some of the things we have today for decoration. There was tinsel and we had these old-fashioned candles with a little thing that clipped on the tree and we would have maybe 15 or 20 of those hung on the tree. Of course, Pop was terrified that we were going to have a fire, so we didn’t light them too much. Pop would let us light the candles and we could see the tree and, and of course we had beautiful baubles. I don’t know where they got those decorative baubles, but I remember at Christmas how much fun it was to get them out and hang them.”
Another one of Helen’s favorite parts of Christmas was, of course, the food! Back then, those who braved the winters would stock up on food items in the fall to last them until spring when railroad deliveries resumed. According to Helen, celery was quite a treat. It was her job to clean the celery and recalled “The celery must have been awfully expensive then because I think they put in about a dozen stalks of celery and that was only used on holidays.” Some of the other favorite foods were homemade fudge, candy canes, rock cookies, and pie. Those treats sound a bit more appetizing than celery…
For those of you reading this from West Yellowstone this holiday season, enjoy the festivities and the magic of Christmas in West. For all of you reading this, both near and far, happy holidays to you and your loved ones!
The quotes of Helen Eagle Glannon were taken from an oral history recorded July 2nd, 1979. Helen Eagle Glannon was born to Sam and Ida September 25th, 1910 and was raised in West Yellowstone. Photographs are from the Eagle Family Collection.