Have you ever had chestnuts roasting on an open fire?
How about a cookie baked curbside as the snow flutters down on the griddle?
Have you been in a town where the broad main street is closed to all but pedestrian traffic?
Or ridden in a horse-drawn sleigh( it’s a wagon—shut your eyes and pretend) decked out with boughs of holly?
If not, get yourself to Red Lodge, Montana the first weekend of December. You’ll indulge in their traditional, everyone-goes-all-out Christmas stroll and have a taste of … well, everything.
And sometimes Jack Frost will nibble at your nose.
Annual Red Lodge Christmas Stroll
December is a magical time to be in Red Lodge when the locals create an, old-fashioned Christmas Stroll. People wander the snow-covered streets, greeting each other with a warmth of friendship that belies the chilly weather. When winter comes to town, life slows down and you don’t get out as often. During The Stroll, stand on a corner and wait…you’ll see all your favorite people.
When I was a regular attendee (ah, to having once been a resident!), the magic of stroll started off with a play. It is performed at the over 100-year-old Roman Theatre and high school students dazzle you with their talents. I’m awed that this tiny high school—grade 9 through 12 totals about 165 kids—has so much natural pizzaz. Sadly, this tradition faded away, but never fear, lots of other fun things are happening.
How the Evening Goes
You dive into the evening walking up and down and zigzagging across Broadway—Red Lodge’s main drag. You eat and you visit and eat and visit some more. Red Lodge, and its varied events, is diverse and attracts all manner of individuals to live and visit. Make sure that when you Stroll, you’re taking time to converse with old friends and gift yourself some new ones. Businesses open their doors for Christmas gift shopping and entice you in with various aromas. From red beans and rice to hot cocoa and cider, kettle-cooked popcorn … and more.
Perhaps a bar is brewing mulled wine with its rich berry aroma. Go ahead and sip a holiday beverage or two. (Just know the police and sheriff are on hand. So don’t over imbibe if you’re the one getting behind the wheel for the drive home.)
There is a variety of music to be found. Open a hotel door to hear a string quartet. Step outside and a brass band interrupts the night with boisterous tunes. During band-breaks, music plays over the loud speakers affixed to quaint street light poles. If you’re fortunate, the perfect amount of snow will be dropping its fresh white coat over the entire scene.
The Weather During Stroll is Part of the Experience
My last Christmas Stroll happened during a particularly deep cold spell. I was concerned that the evening would be less than the usual fun. No need to fear. We bundled up as if we were about to cross Siberia and tumbled out to find the festival as always: energizing, fun, delightful with sparkling Christmas lights and decorations in multiple colors.
But be prepared—it’s Red Lodge, after all. The weather could be ten below or fifty above. Layers, people! This is where the deer and the antelope play, it’s also the land that demands dressing in layers. Peel them off or pile them on.
The Red Lodge Christmas Stroll Evolves
New since my last stroll, is the Blade Parade on Friday night. Red Lodge’s humor shows through in the imaginative way snow plows are decorated. Anything for a chuckle.
Santa puts in an appearance—riding around town on the plow of his choice or that sleigh, er, wagon. He’s also available for photo opps Saturday afternoon if you pop into the Elks Lodge.
The stroll advertising poster is always a treat. A design competition is held for local artists and range from the Norman Rockwell to the totally whimsical. Look for them in the windows and admire the talent.
Ski Season Fills the Town
Skiers descend Red Lodge Mountain and realize Broadway Avenue has been closed off to vehicles. Parents pull sleds holding their tiny tots. A hay wagon goes by pulled by big fuzzy-haired horses. If they look in the just the right place, Santa smiles from underneath his beard.
Although there are plenty of children’s things going on, there’s something about The Stroll that makes it seem an adult’s event. Is it that warmed wine soothing my chilled throat? Could it be an openness grown-ups may be summertime-shy about sharing? But in the harshness of winter, we expand and give more hugs? Perhaps it’s the relaxation giving us peace and joy before the craziness of the holidays. Whatever it is, my Decembers without The Christmas Stroll just aren’t the same.
When You Go to the Red Lodge Christmas Stroll
Be prepared for walking and for extreme cold or surprisingly comfortable weather.
If there’s enough snow, don those cross country skis to scoot around town—you won’t be the only one.
Events begin at 6:00 p.m. Doors close at 9:00.
Attendance is free, but be ready to support local shop owners with your purchases.
*Read, So this is Christmas