When the fourth Thursday in November rolls around, a lot of folks think about turkey and pie. Others gear up for a big game or an all-out shopping campaign. Some simply want to get outside and enjoy all there is under the Big Sky. We’ve got some thoughts on what makes a perfect Montana Thanksgiving weekend. But, whatever it is that makes Thanksgiving special for you, just remember to take a moment for a little gratitude.
The night before Thanksgiving is when many folks kick off the holiday season with an early happy hour—that often goes long into the evening. If you’re in Southwest Montana, slide on your party boots and head to the Pony Bar. It’s the one bar in a one-horse town, but it’s a popular drinking destination for people who are looking for a party. Just make plans to get home safely.
There are many awesome bakeries beneath the Big Sky, and the Coffee Pot Bakery Café in Bozeman is one of the best. Whether you want to grab a few mixed slices or order a whole pie to finish off your Thanksgiving dinner, they’ll take care of you. They even have gluten-free pies.
Pick up a fresh turkey—or ham or roast—for your holiday feast. The Meat and Poultry Palace is an old-fashioned, family-owned butcher shop that’s been keeping Billings’ carnivores happy for more than 30 years. Each November, they stock up on fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving, so be sure to get yours before they run out.
There’s no better way to get ready for a holiday meal than burning off some calories beforehand… right? Well, if you’re a believer in Thanksgiving Day runs, the Burn the Bird 5K/10K is for you. You can get out at 8 a.m. and build up a nice little caloric deficit before you sit down and stuff yourself silly.
Every year, on the Friday evening after Thanksgiving, the Downtown Billings Alliance hosts a themed parade to usher in the holiday season. More than 100 floats, decorated according to the theme, glide through among the downtown buildings of Billings as throngs of festive onlookers cheer them along.
There are plenty of fine shopping centers in Montana—Billings, Great Falls, Bozeman, Big Sky, Missoula, e.g.—but if you’re seeking a different kind of shopping experience, head up to the Shops at Station 8 in Columbia Falls. There you’ll find antiques, vintage goods, and all other manner of merchandise in an old Great Northern Railway depot.
Every year, usually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the University of Montana Grizzlies square off against the Montana State University Bobcats in the last regular-season football game on both schools’ schedules. Between the interstate rivalry and nothing left to lose, it’s always a great game and both teams leave everything they have on the field.
Little more than a decade after President Abraham Lincoln declared that the fourth Thursday of November would be set aside as a national day of gratitude—creating the Thanksgiving holiday—Lt. Col. George A. Custer and his attached U.S. Army personnel attacked an encampment of Lakota and Cheyenne people in the Little Bighorn River valley. Given the popular imagery of friendly pilgrims and helpful Native Americans, Thanksgiving is an excellent time to reflect on the nature of the relationship between immigrants to North America and the people who lived here first. And few places are better for such reflection than the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, where insight into the history of our nation’s relationship with Native Americans is deep.
One way to show gratitude for all that you have is to give back to those who are less fortunate. Volunteering at a place like the Billings Food Bank helps them deliver their much-needed services to the community. Montana is big, but there are many similar organizations throughout the state, all of which need volunteers. Find one near you and build up some good karma this holiday season.
If throwing your weight into full-force into the belly of consumerism before the leftovers are even cold isn’t your thing, then get out under that Big Sky and enjoy all that Montana has to offer. Grab your hiking boots (or snowshoes or skis) and head out to Lost Creek or any of the other beautiful state parks in the system. Breathe the air, work off the pie, and give a little bit of thanks that you’re in Montana.