Welcoming the Season with Billings’ Christmas Stroll
When Chris Montague, owner of Montague Jewelers, thinks back to a childhood growing up in Billings during the holidays, his memories race to decorated streets, festive local businesses and friendly familiar faces. Now, as a business owner himself, he continues the age-old Billings tradition by decorating his own shop—like his downtown predecessors—with his kids by his side.
Today, the event is called the Christmas Stroll, and it stands as a time-tested mark of community, togetherness and a cheerful entry into the holiday season for locals.
“Everybody talks about Black Friday, and that’s all well and good, but I really like the feeling of the Christmas Stroll,” Chris says. “To me, that’s when the season really kicks off.”
A tradition spanning more than 24 years, the Christmas Stroll coincides with Billings’ ArtWalk on the first Friday in December. In a celebration meant to bring in the holiday season, the event features a range of Christmas-themed activities, tastes and beverages. Families have a chance to take pictures with Santa while strolling through the area’s decked-out local businesses. The community-focused tradition is highlighted by food trucks, hot cocoa, roasted nuts and Christmas tree sales.
When Chris reopened his business downtown more than a decade ago, he says he was excited to participate in the community celebration.
“In 2004, we reopened downtown,” he says. “We jumped in with both feet our first year being back downtown.”
He also relished the opportunity to contribute his own flair to the event. He turned to his wife’s family recipe for eggnog and started offering it at the event. In the years since, his holiday treat has become a hot commodity and a Christmas Stroll staple.
“Everybody was doing something different and fun,” he says. “We decided to do eggnog.”
Chris’ drink has become so popular, in fact, that he now gets up on the morning of the event, cracks more than 75 eggs and prepares the beverage in water cooler-sized jugs. Throughout the day, his kids will even run delivery orders to other local business owners who are too busy to get away from their shops.
“It has sort of taken on a life of its own,” he says. “It’s a whole day’s production. People come down just for the eggnog.”
Although the eggnog has become a distinct feature of the Christmas Stroll, Chris is quick to point out the true value of the event stands in the message it promotes within the Billings community.
“I really appreciate the Christmas Stroll and what it means for local Billings,” he says. “It lets people know that downtown businesses are open for business and we love participating in the community.”
In addition to serving his traditional eggnog, Chris will kick off this year’s event with a celebration a half-hour before the Christmas Stroll for Montague Jeweler’s 80th anniversary. He says the Christmas Stroll is a good reminder to value local business–a theme that is also at the core of his 80th-anniversary celebration.
The 2017 Christmas Stroll will run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, December 1 downtown.