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Panhandle Passages: Christmastime at Fort Robinson

The lights at Fort Robinson State Park accentuate the historical buildings. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)
The lights at Fort Robinson State Park enhance the historical buildings. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)

It usually takes some prodding to get me into the holiday spirit. I’m much more inclined to get excited about the arrival of ice for fishing this time of year than the coming of Santa Claus and his reindeer. Thanks to one event this season, though, I moved the needle a little closer to the “St. Nicked” side of the holiday excitement meter from its position at “Scrooged.”

My wife and I attended Fort Robinson State Park’s annual Christmas dinner Dec. 6. If you’ve never been to it, you should be one of the quick ones to reserve a place at the table when tickets go on sale next year. This marked the 20th year of the annual dinner, which recreates the menu and atmosphere from another time in the fort’s past. The event, which had a 1914 theme this year, is always popular with more than 200 in attendance. It serves as a great way to celebrate the season and pay tribute to the fort’s storied history.

The effort requires a lot of planning and seems to get all park employees and many others involved in some way – from constructing the big evergreen swags adorning the dining hall to making soup.

Our night began when we arrived at the park just prior to sundown. We drove through the park as staff members were busy “flipping the switches” for the annual Lighting of the Fort. Each year, businesses, organizations and community members join park staff in decorating the grounds’ historic buildings. Stringing lights for so many buildings is surely no easy task and help from the community is appreciated. The historic and scenic atmosphere of Fort Robinson takes on a special charm when lighted for the season.

When we arrived at the adobe barracks for dinner, the students of the Pine Ridge Job Corps were receiving a crash course in serving the evening’s meal. The students’ involvement is just one of several community relationships that have developed from the dinner through the years.

Christmas dinners were obviously a big deal at the fort during its time as a military installment. We enjoyed both oyster stew and turkey, along with about two dozen other menu items. The food kept coming and coming.

Several in attendance got into the spirit by donning 1914 attire. Entertainers performed Christmas music and attendees heard about history of the fort and other remarks from park staff and other representatives of the Game and Parks Commission.

It was an enjoyable night. With our bellies stuffed, music ringing in our ears and thoughts of yesteryear, we departed the fort and its lights.

Even if you weren’t able to make it to this year’s dinner, you should take a drive through the park after sundown. It’s likely to get you in the spirit, no matter where you’re at on the holiday excitement meter.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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