UCROSS — In a tidy, comfortable and joyous setting, about 200 people enjoyed an evening of song, snacks, storytelling and spectacle at the fifth annual community Christmas celebration Saturday at Ucross.
The festivities took place in the Raymond Plank Creative Center at the Park at Ucross. Plank, the founder of the Ucross Foundation and guest of honor, entered a little past 4 p.m. The 95-year-old Plank, who came up with the idea for the Christmas celebration, thoughtfully observed the festivities while smoking a pipe. An exhibit celebrating Plank’s life was also on display around the building’s interior walls.
New York Times bestselling author and Ucross resident Craig Johnson called Plank a living legend and said he couldn’t encapsulate such an extraordinary life in writing.
“It’s always exciting when I get to meet somebody who’s lived as many lives as Raymond,” Johnson said.
Johnson read a new Walt Longmire short story Saturday, titled “The Percentages.” Audience members munched on crackers and cookies, listening attentively as Johnson read about Longmire visiting a coal mine in Gillette to talk with a potential murderer.
The jovial Johnson called Christmas “a magical time when everybody behaves the way they should year-round.”
The celebration began on a musical note. Eleven members of the Buffalo Balladiers, a high school chorus group, performed several Christmas songs, including “The First Noel,” “Winter Wonderland” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
Mother Nature cooperated this year, with balmy weather Saturday, compared to last year’s subzero temperatures. The evening finished with a fireworks display amid dozens of trees lit up with Christmas lights.
Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, oversaw the fireworks display. For Burns, a significant part of Christmas involves entertaining children. He remembered loving Christmas as a child and tries to pass on that joy. Saturday, Burns let kids push the buttons that set off the fireworks, the only fireworks show of the year when he does so.
Burns said the weekend celebration was a nice respite from his legislator duties as co-chairman of the Joint Appropriations Committee. The JAC is in the process of developing and holding hearings for the 2019-20 Wyoming budget. The committee met for five days last week and meets Monday through Friday again this week.
“This is the only reason I came up this weekend,” Burns said. “Otherwise I would’ve just stayed down in Cheyenne.”
Ucross Foundation President Sharon Dynak said the logistics associated with a large gathering were a challenge, but she enjoyed opening up the building for neighbors and friends. Dynak also stated that the foundation plans to continue the annual celebration for years to come, as it puts a nice bow on the end of the year.
Dynak looks at Christmas as a time to remember a spirit of giving. She also thinks back to her childhood and remembers important people in her life, such as her 97-year-old mother.
“We don’t know who’s going to be here with us next year,” Dynak said. “Christmas is just a way of being together with people.”