Christmas Traditions: Prominent Wyomingites Share Their Holiday Must-Dos

Holiday traditions span a wide range—from cookie swaps and photos with Santa to gingerbread house competitions and matching pajamas for the whole family on Christmas morning. We asked prominent Wyomingites from across the state to tell us about their favorite Christmas traditions and memories.

From all of us at the Wyoming Truth, here’s to a happy holiday season!

Cynthia Hanson, Editor

Barb Poley, Park County Treasurer: “We always gather up and go look at the Christmas lights … the night before Christmas Eve. That’s just a normal [tradition]. … One fun thing we do is every year … the whole Poley family gets together and we go bowling on a night, so there was like 23 of us this last week. … And then we do hoodie exchanges. Instead of drawing [names] for everybody and buying gifts, we just do an exchange with everybody, and we buy hoodies and it’s just fun.”

Tyler Schwab, founder/president at Libertas International: “Christmas traditions at my home were always so magical, mainly due to my mom. Our home was always cozy, with the smell of cookies and back-to-back Christmas movies that were on repeat on our television screen, such as ‘The Santa Clause,’ ‘Jingle All the Way,’ ‘Annabelle’s Wish’ and ‘The Grinch.’ Snow would always fall during our Christmas Eve party, where we would play a game of Yankee Swap while the radio played Christmas music. The game of Yankee Swap continues. But now, instead of Christmas movies, we watch football.”

Kristin Combs, executive director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates: “One of our favorite things about Christmas in the mountains is going to cut down a tree in the National Forest. We take hot drinks along and spend a good part of the day finding the right one. I love having a real tree with the wonderful smell of pine and fir in the house. Plus, it is so fun being able to find a truly unique, one-of-a-kind tree that is all our own.”

Keegan Young, executive director of the Teton County Search & Rescue Foundation: “We’ve traditionally gone ice climbing over the holiday break with [our] kids. However, we are not only new to Wyoming, but empty nesters. It is an exciting time to develop new traditions, with new friends, in our new home.”

Keri McMeans, executive director of The Food Group Wyoming: “Just after Thanksgiving, my husband and our two boys go to the Bighorns to get a Christmas tree. Our oldest son, not so thrilled with the process, picks the first tree he sees while our youngest, searching for the perfect tree, takes his sweet time. This has become a game between the boys, especially as they have grown older. There is a significant amount of ‘searching,’ jesting and laughter. Everyone joins in on the shortest or longest search for the perfect tree. When we finally reach a family consensus, my husband ‘tags’ the best Charlie Brown tree with the pride of a seasoned elk hunter. We’re empty nesters for the first time this year and find ourselves yearning for holiday breaks when our boys are home from college for extended periods.For my husband and I, the Christmas tree hunt has never been about the tree. It’s about making precious memories with our two amazing sons.”

Joe Barbuto, chairperson of the Wyoming Democratic Party: “For many years, my dad and uncle played in a local band with a few of their friends in Rock Springs. During the holidays, they would gather up their guitars, bass and a few percussion instruments and hit the streets to share music with the patrons of local establishments. Bursting into restaurants, bars — just about anywhere there were people gathered — they would share a few Christmas songs and some cheer. I don’t think any business ever turned them away or asked them to leave.”

Genevieve Mougey, executive director of Catholic Charities of Wyoming: “One of my most memorable Christmases as an adult was [in] 2010 or ’11. My brother was on his second deployment to Iraq. The first deployment was so hard over Christmas that I said I was going to do Christmas in D.C. [where I was living]. My parents came to D.C. [so] we could do everything brand new. . . .  My brother did three tours in Iraq, and we’re celebrating Christmas with him now again. Everyone is safe and happy, and it’s wonderful to have those holiday traditions again.”

Roy Eckerdt, Powell Police Chief: “It’s family time on the mountain cutting a Christmas tree. We always take sleds and hot dogs and apple cider and build a fire and spend the day on the mountain in addition to getting the tree.”

Becky Steensland, Wyoming Historical Society Treasurer: “In the 1950s, the only shopping was from the Sears catalog. We’d spent hours marking and circling what we thought Santa should bring. Mother took care to see we were never disappointed. Dad was employed at Amoco refinery and never thought about any Christmas preparation except putting up the live tree he bargained for.[But] he always took Christmas Eve off to shop for Mother’s gift. He took us three girls, and we had to approve of any purchase.”

Piper Singer Cunningham, communications senior manager for the Wyoming Office of Tourism: “One of my favorite holiday traditions is ‘regifting’ my grandma’s infamous turtleneck dickies. Think cousin Eddie’s dickie fromNational Lampoon Christmas Vacation.’ No one actually wants them, so we always have to sneak it under the Christmas tree for someone to open. It’s a room full of laughter once we see the next cousin/aunt/uncle open the box of dickies, which means they have to keep them until next Christmas.”  

Spencer Pelton, Wyoming State Archaeologist, and his wife, Hallie: “For the last few years, we’ve wrapped gifts for our dog Cashew to unwrap on Christmas morning. She was confused at first. But since picking it up, she’s very enthusiastic about it and now thinks every gift in the world is for her. Her strategy is to pin the gift to the floor, tear at a corner with her teeth, and then thrash the gift from side to side once she gets ahold of it to remove the rest of the paper.”

D. Lynette St. Clair, an Eastern Shoshone Tribe member and Indigenous education consultant: “Years ago, our entertainment committee held events that went on through the holidays. We had Christmas dances, Legion dances, Christmas gift exchanges where the committee would come around and ask if you wanted to participate. People would draw a name and take the gift to the Rock Hall where the Christmas tree was put up. On Christmas Eve, the entertainment committee would hand out the gifts. We would also get a huge bag of candy, nuts and fruit. This event was for everyone in our tribe who wanted to participate. [On] Christmas Day, [there] would be a community feast, sponsored by the tribe and committee. After the feast, there would be a dance [powwow]. The dances would be held all week until [the] New Year. Community halls in each reservation community would be hopping with dances and fun events for everyone.”

Maj. Gen. Greg Porter, Wyoming Adjutant General: “What I hold most dear during the holidays are the special moments we share with others like during ‘Wreaths Across America’ [to remember] the sacrifices of our veterans and when we gather to embrace our Gold Star Families, who’ve sacrificed so much. This is a time of year where I get to spend precious moments with my family and friends, taking stock in the good memories and blessings of each moment, and keep the flame of remembrance alive in the spirit of the season.”

Monica Colby, Wyoming State Assistant Fire Marshal: “Every Christmas season, I love singing Christmas hymns with my church choir, watching movies from ‘Holiday Inn’ to ‘Mixed Nuts,’ and spending time [with] my family. Some years my family has just been my son and me. Often it is with my mom, brother, sisters, and nieces and nephews. Many of the past years have been with my family of dear friends. Living away from [a] related family, we formed familial bonds with two families and raised our kids together as ‘aunts and uncles’ of one another’s children. We celebrate most annual holidays together. On Christmas Eve, we enjoy a meal we make together, play board and card games, and read James 2 together . . . On Christmas Day, my son and I open presents, call family and hang around home all day…”

Dan Shannon, director of the Wyoming Department of Corrections: “Christmas Eve family dinner has always been the most treasured memory for me. The meal preparations, the dinner traditions as well as religious services later that evening – these traditions have remained the same as they were in the old country.”

Amara Fehring, community development and arts learning specialist at Wyoming Arts Council: “The Communal Pancake Performing Arts Holiday Spectacular, a biannual tradition for our theater company, seamlessly weaves together musical performances, comedy, festive decorations and special guests for a one-of-a-kind experience. Rooted in the spirit of the 1960s holiday variety shows, our original production is a nod to a bygone era of entertainment. It goes beyond conventional holiday celebrations, fostering a communal atmosphere that resonates with nostalgia.”

Sergio Maldonado, Sr., a Northern Arapaho Tribe member: “I remember my father being a carpenter. He made the silhouettes of Santa Claus and reindeer out of plywood. They were visible, probably three feet [tall]. And as a little boy, watching my father put that kind of energy into Christmas as a carpenter, it just made me so happy. But what it did for the family – my two sisters and two brothers – is that it really brought about a greater awareness of Christmas. It was my mother who communicated the whole reason behind Christmas. I remember her saying, ‘Yes, it’s about gifts, but you can give gifts throughout the year.’… But this particular day is recognizing the birth of our Lord savior Jesus Christ ….”

Command Chief Master Sgt. Josh Moore, Wyoming Military Department command senior enlisted leader: “After 28 years of military service, my fondest memory was after pulling a night-shift duty on Christmas Eve. Getting home after a 12-hour shift and watching my family open gifts and the warmth of togetherness after many holidays away, I felt reinvigorated but truly thankful to share this moment. This memory I cherish because I know many airmen and soldiers don’t get to spend time with their families this holiday season.”

CJ Baker, Carrie Haderlie, Jennifer Kocher, Shen Wu Tan and Melissa Thomasma contributed to this report.

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