Early Christmas morning, a young Brazilian man who had just hitched a ride to Big Mountain, where he works as a lift operator, explained that in Brazil the holiday is virtually the same.
“We have the old man with the beard,” he said, fishing for the old man’s English name.
Normally, he says, he’d be with his family at his grandmother’s house for the holiday.
But while many think of Christmas as a day without work, Whitefish and Big Mountain service industry workers found themselves busier than ever.
Starting Christmas day, the number of guests staying at the resort begins to swell from about 700 to a New Year’s day peak of more than 4,700—essentially the same population as Whitefish. Christmas day is typically the busiest week of the year on the mountain, which means that both at the resort and in town, many businesses remain open.
Workers make the best of it. Employees in the reservations department ate huckleberry pancakes and bacon served up by a spouse; lift operators at the Big Foot T-Bar, who had managed to transport a grill up the mountain, barbecued their holiday meal and greeted guests with a hearty “Merry Christmas.”
In town, a fake-antler-wearing cashier at Alpine Market, one of the only grocery stores open for the holiday, says she’s selling mostly last-minute items to vacationers, which, for the most part, meant wine.
Later on Christmas evening, at least one downtown restaurant remained open, along with three bars. At the Great Northern Bar & Grill, two bartenders served about a dozen patrons, who watched the Jets and Dolphins, two NFL teams that also got stuck working Christmas night, though for vastly greater pay.
Both bartenders say they worked last Christmas as well.
Business then was steady, they say, but people tend to have just a few drinks; tonight one man has seen fit to lay his head on the bar top and take a public nap.
Neither bartender is sentimental about working on Christ’s birthday.
“It’s just another day for me,” one said. “So I might as well work.”