December 21, 2009
Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:19
When my family and I were fortunate enough to visit Yellowstone several years ago, we arrived in time to celebrate the park’s annual Christmas in August. “Christmas comes twice a year—once at home and once up here,” is the unofficial motto. One thing that happens is some hearty park employees ford the chilly Firehole River to reach Christmas Tree Rock, and decorate a lodgepole pine with red and green paper ropes and tinsel.
There are a couple of versions as to how this whole tradition got started. The most popular is that sometime in the early part of last century, a blizzard struck Yellowstone, stranding summer visitors. Marooned at the Old Faithful Lodge and looking out over a winter wonderland, the employees and guests decided to hold a Christmas celebration. The difficulty with that story is that while brief snowstorms can occur in the area at the end of August, a full-fledged whiteout is highly unlikely, and no historical records substantiate it anyway.
Another version is that the park employees started the custom themselves, in July, with events that featured floats, a costume ball, skits, dancing, singing and wild partying. In an attempt to rein in the festivities, park management opened up the gatherings to guests.
At some point, the day of celebration moved from July to August, and eventually settled in on August 25th. Again, no one’s quite sure why—it could be because it’s the anniversary date of the founding of the National Park Service. Or because it was the time when many temporary summer park employees left to go back to school, home or to their fall and winter jobs.
Interestingly, one account says that the date change was due to Warren Ost, a Princeton divinity student and seasonal bellhop who organized choral groups and set a goal of performing Handel’s “Messiah.” He needed more time to practice, so the Christmas celebration was pushed back another month. Mr. Ost also began a Christian student group in the park, and went on to found A Christian Ministry in the National Parks, an organization that places ministry teams in more than 20 parks each year. Every Sunday between Memorial Day and Labor Day, ACMNP offers about 150 worship services at 75 different sites in the parks.
And me? What did I get out of the summer Christmas celebration? An ornament for my tree.
What I should have added was the opportunity to experience the mystery and wonder of God coming to earth in human form, albeit at a different time of year, something that would have cost me only time. But you know how it is—vacations are for fun, not serious contemplation! And, come to think of it, the “real” Christmas in December is so full of shopping, decorating, sending out cards and baking cookies, that there’s not much time for reflection then either!
Jesus’ mother Mary learned early on how to store up and treasure the amazing things that happened to her. She was still doing it when her Son turned 12, and He stayed behind in the temple (Luke 2:51). I imagine the practice continued when she saw Him turn water into wine (John 2:1-11), and as she witnessed the countless other miracles He performed. Perhaps even at the cross, Mary sadly stored up the terrible scene (John 19:25-27); most certainly she did so joyously when she saw Jesus alive again. Undoubtedly, she called up those precious memories many times during her life, turning them over and over in her mind.
Why don’t we follow her example?
Even Charles Dickens recognized the need to keep that spirit alive all year round, as he wrote of the transformed Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol:
It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge.
May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!