When Craig Weiner traveled to Denali National Park from Sacramento, California, he never expected to run into Santa Claus. But there he was at the Denali Bluffs Hotel, taking a selfie with the jolly old elf himself.
He and his wife happened to be there on Aug. 25, the day seasonal workers at Denali traditionally celebrate Christmas, during a tourist season that compresses a year’s worth of holidays into 180 days.
According to legend, the tradition began long ago at Yellowstone National Park, when a group of visitors became trapped at Old Faithful Inn after several inches of snow fell on Aug. 24. The sudden winter weather made stagecoach travel impossible. The visitors decided to pas the time by celebrating Christmas. They sang holiday carols, decorated holiday trees and treated the day as if it were Christmas Day.
Another legend says the holiday emerged as a way for seasonal employees to blow off steam at the end of the tourist season and say their goodbyes for the year. The tradition caught on throughout the National Park Service.
Santa Claus is a regular guest now every year and he enjoys surprising visitors to Denali National Park.
“They are all surprised to see me at first, and then happy to see me,” he said.
Questions are nonstop: Is your beard real? How many elves do you have? Where do you live?
On Aug. 25, Santa mingled with guests at the Denali Railroad Depot, at Denali Bluffs Hotel and Grande Denali Lodge. Like every resort in the area, the lobbies were filled with Christmas trees and other holiday decorations. Employees dressed like elves or wore the ever popular ugly Christmas sweaters.
It was only fitting that Santa took a turn at karaoke at the end of the evening. He held the microphone and sang: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire ... ”
What could be more special than that?