Flames rise into a hot air balloon stationed at the east end of Main Street during the annual Christmas Stroll on Saturday, Dec. 3.

Bozeman’s Main Street is now decked out with boughs of holly after Santa paid an early visit to downtown — along with thousands of people.

Last weekend, on Saturday, Dec. 3, Main Street was closed for the annual Christmas Stroll, where approximately 8,000 people gathered to kick off the holiday season, according to Cache Perdue, program director at the Downtown Bozeman Partnership. The Christmas Stroll is an annual tradition that started 42 years ago. First, it was just the Baxter Hotel hosting Santa Claus, but other businesses and organizations have since joined in to spread the holiday joy.

All day last Saturday, there were events to celebrate Christmas. The Christmas Stroll began at 9 a.m. with the Bozeman Schools Foundation, which hosted the Annual Santa Run for Education. Then the American Legion, Sweet Pea Festival and First Security Bank hosted a Gingerbread House Contest. The gingerbread houses were on display for the entire afternoon on the second floor of the Legion, and winners received prizes from Downtown Dollars to Sweet Pea Festival Tickets.

Downtown dollars are gift certificates sold by the Downtown Bozeman Partnership. The gift certificates work at any business in Downtown Bozeman.

The main event was the Christmas Parade, which began at 4:30 p.m. and hosted an array of groups and floats. The choir from Chief Joseph Middle School sang Christmas carols as Santa lit Downtown Bozeman’s traditional Christmas Spiders. The Montana Youth Challenge Academy’s uniformed Cadets escorted a parade vehicle provided by Bridger Bowl down Main Street and the sidewalks and shoulders were packed full of food vendors.

“There’s a lot of logistics that go into planning this event, from getting portapotties, linens, street closures, to getting Santa,” Perdue said.

The Baxter Hotel still hosts Santa, the police and fire departments help with road closures and for-profit businesses financially sponsor the event.

The Downtown Bozeman Partnership is responsible for juggling all of the puzzle pieces to make events like these possible. With lots of moving pieces, the Christmas Stroll required months of planning before Downtown Bozeman even started to promote the event.

“We really start dipping our toes into planning in September,” Perdue said.

Since COVID-19, the Downtown Bozeman Partnership has struggled the most with financing events like these. They sold Christmas Stroll buttons for $4 each, which automatically entered customers into a raffle, with prizes like Bridger Bowl tickets and downtown dollars.

“This year, we were not able to bring in horses, which is a big goal I have for next-years Christmas Stroll,” Perdue said.

The Christmas Stroll is a long-standing tradition for Bozeman, and it’s an excellent way to ring in the Christmas spirit.

Hosting events such as the Christmas Stroll helps Bozeman locals feel a connection to their community.

“The Christmas Stoll, in essence, is a great way to bring in the Christmas spirit. But, beyond that, I hope people take away a connection with downtown Bozeman and feel like this is their home,” Perdue said.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, get outside, off of campus and involved in the local community. This month is packed full of events to celebrate the holiday season and ring in the new year.