A Matanuska Colony Christmas

Dear holiday reader,

Downtown Palmer during Colony Christmas, with Pioneer Peak in the distance. Photo by Ruth Hulbert

This past weekend, we celebrated Colony Christmas in Palmer. It is a small-town festival, featuring a snowshoe obstacle course down main street, reindeer petting, horse-drawn sleigh rides, fireworks, hot cocoa, Santa Claus, craft fairs, and a parade. Yes, a parade in the middle of winter when temperatures are often below zero Fahrenheit. The floats begin to make their way down the street well after dark on Saturday afternoon, so they are all decorated with Christmas lights.

In between running the till and helping customers at Fireside Books on Saturday, I tried to sneak outside for a couple photographs to share with you. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good shots.

The Palmer train depot, by Ruth Hulbert.

But Ruth Hulbert, who also grew up in Palmer and works at Fireside Books, offered a couple of her photos from a previous Colony Christmas, just so you all could get a feel for the atmosphere.

The event is held in honor of the Matanuska Colonists, who ventured north to Alaska in the 1930s as a part of the New Deal. They were farming families, trying to earn a new life in the Last Frontier. Many of them struggled those first few winters, but they pulled together to celebrate Christmas the best they could.

The Palmer train depot where the Colonists first arrived in the valley nearly 80 years ago remains an important gathering place. During Colony Christmas, it is crowded with arts and crafts and people bundled up in coats.

In typical small-town fashion, when I took my oldest daughter to the orthodontist the other day, the receptionist and I began talking about Colony Christmas. She pulled out her smart phone to show me this fascinating short film of the train coming into the Palmer Depot in the early 1930s.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DxhT4UP10c&w=420&h=315]

For those of you who have read The Snow Child, this would have been very similar to the town of Alpine, where Jack and Mabel arrive by train to begin their new homesteading life.

Happy holidays!



  • Sarah davis says:

    Great pictures it is just what I imagined jack and Mabel’s town to look like. A winter festival sounds interesting best wishes Sarah

  • Fascinating! Thanks so much for sharing. I loved seeing the video!

  • Yaya says:

    Thanks to Ruth Hulbert for the pictures, Vivian Prescott for mentioning the video as I wasn’t aware of its availability until I read her comment and Eowyn for giving us a look into the world of Mable and Jack. What an amazing time and an amazing land.