What's Your Beef: To Stroll Or Not To Stroll?

Jerry Schuster  |   Wednesday Nov. 1st, 2017

A few days ago, I had the strangest dream. In this dream, Theresa and I were walking hand in hand while strolling along with an enormous crowd enjoying Bozeman’s “greatest holiday tradition”…the annual Christmas Stroll and Parade on Main Street. Yes, there we were, along with about 10,000 others, all walking along in the fresh, soft snow, following Santa Claus from the Emerson Cultural Center heading toward Main. A short time before, the big tree at the Emerson lawn had been lit up, and the crowd just roared.

We were right behind Santa, as we had gotten to the Emerson early to get a prime spot. A choir was singing traditional Christmas carols, and the crowd seemed to float along the route, everyone all happy and jolly.

When we got to the center of town, it looked like a winter version of “Music on Main” during the summer months. Oh!, The variety of food and beverage vendors! I decided to skip the excellent dinner choices for a while and just concentrate on the cookies and hot chocolate. Theresa was looking around for a gluten-free cookie, but had no luck.

We spent the entire evening enjoying some shopping, the fun food, and live music. Arriving back home late at night, we were exhausted but very happy with the whole experience.

Then, suddenly, I was awake! It was only a dream! As a matter of fact, we have never actually participated in the Christmas Stroll. The scenes so vividly protruded in my dream must have come from discussions with family and other locals. Here it is, blunt and plain folks. I have no idea what Bozemanites see, hear, or do at the Christmas Stroll and Parade. “Why?” you ask. That seems a fair question. Since you have asked, guess I had better explain. You see, we have certainly tried to attend, but have been unsuccessful so far. Three attempts; strikeout. Return to dugout, I mean home.

Here’s the best kept secret about the Christmas Stroll. Locals, do not read the next sentence, as you don’t want to admit that this problem exists, and you can just go about living in la la land.

Good, the locals have now quit reading, so for the rest of you, the problem is that there is no place to park for this event! Here are my experiences; all of this is true, well, maybe stretched a little. Don’t act so surprised; you know this from previous articles.
During our first year here, we had heard about the Christmas Stroll and it sounded like a real hoot. About 7 o’clock in the evening, we drove to Main. Well, not quite. We found a nice place to park, only about 6 blocks from Main. It was about minus 25 degrees outside, but we had come prepared. One thing about our years in northeastern Montana; we knew how to dress for nights like this. Our friends from California, not so much.

As we approached Main, we noticed a lot of folks heading back towards their cars. Others were hitting the bars and cafes. A few brave souls were huddled around the few remaining food vendors. The street was deserted. Santa was nowhere to be seen. We had a wonderful stroll down Main, just the two of us; it lasted about three minutes. By the time we got back to the car, I was ready for the heater. My long johns were frozen stiff.

`The following year, we were more prepared than ever. We had thirteen layers of warm clothes, hand and foot warmers and the like. One slight problem. It was about 50 degrees plus outside.

About 6 o’clock in the evening, we head to Main. Didn’t make it. Vehicles were parked solid from Belgrade to Livingston; just kidding, but actually in about a ten block radius of the Stroll site. Our plan: drive around until you find someone leaving, and voila! We will park. Big problem: no one is leaving; just a bunch of folks driving around looking for someone to leave.

Finally, an open space, about the size of a VW beetle. We squeeze in, and arrived at Main after a two-mile trek. The crowd was leaving, the sidewalks were being rolled up. As with the year before, we had a lovely stroll, basically the whole town to ourselves. No carols to be heard, no cookies and no hot Dr. Pepper. A person who looked a lot like Santa, sans suit, was seen sipping libations at the Rocking R Bar.

Last year, we revised our Stroll plan. Forget parking near Main Street. Just drive around the Southside, then the Northside, and as we see people heading for their cars, we stop and ask them about their Stroll experience. Just gather some opinions. We could also ask if they were leaving, and where they might be parked. So we start to cruise, and we continue to cruise, around and around. The few people we saw heading towards vehicles would not talk to us, and gee, I thought we seemed like such nice folks. Apparently, a lot of people are hard of hearing in this town because no one would answered my questions.

We were soon about out of gas and tried to get into the line heading out of Main. The Stroll was over. After 30 minutes or so, a kind driver let us in the line, and we made a long circuitous route back to the house. We arrived home at midnight cold, hungry and depressed.

This year, things will be different. Here’s the plan. We will leave our home at 7 a.m., and have lots of warm clothes, food, beverages, and a full tank of gas. We will park a block or so from the Emerson, in one of the few remaining spots available at that time of day. Then we will spend the entire day downtown, doing some Christmas shopping. At around 3 p.m., we’ll head to the Emerson to get a good spot for the lighting of the tree. After that, we will stroll down with the crowd and experience this local tradition first hand. Next year at this time, I will be able to write about our experience, so just stay tuned.

To stroll or not to stroll, that is the question. Might see you there? 

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