Roving Christmas Tree tradition began 71 years ago

— Five generations of Webbers have participated in the Roving Christmas Tree since it started on Christmas Eve in 1938 in Steamboat Springs.

The event, which began with Walt Webber driving his panel truck outfitted with loudspeakers that played carols and four lit Christmas trees, has evolved throughout the years, Walt Webber’s granddaughter Cindy Wright said Tuesday. The event since has moved to Hayden.

This year’s event will begin at 5 p.m. from The Haven Assisted Living Center in Hayden. Wright said the family’s goal is to visit every home in town.

In the years after the first Roving Christmas Tree more than 70 years ago, Webber abandoned the four trees in favor of one tall, lit Christmas tree. And he began dressing as Santa, at the urging of his wife, Gertrude, to hand out popcorn balls and candy to Steamboat children.

Wright said it didn’t matter if it took him until 1 a.m. or if it were 48 degrees below zero, her grandfather would walk around Steamboat, trying to visit every family.

She said the Roving Christmas Tree has made the rounds almost continually — with the exception of a few years during World War II when rationing restricted how much food families could buy — since the tradition began.

The Webbers continued the tradition until the 1970s, when they passed it on to the Steamboat Springs Lions Club, which expanded it to include Hayden and Oak Creek until the mid-1980s. Several organizations have handled the event in Hayden in the years since.

The last group, the Hayden 4-H club, relinquished the responsibility back to the Webber family in 2005. Since then, Walt and Gertrude’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have organized the Roving Christmas Tree in Hayden.

Wright said her family wanted to give back to the community.

“We wanted to do it in the memory of our grandparents and give it to the children of Hayden to have that to pass down to their children,” she said.

The Roving Christmas Tree has expanded from just Santa to include Mrs. Claus and elves, depending on what family members are available to participate, Wright said. This year, she said, two trailers will spend four or five hours taking two Santas around Hayden.

Wright urged Hayden families to leave a light on and keep an eye and an ear out for Santa and the Roving Christmas Tree. The trailers can’t turn around on dead-end streets or in alleys, but Wright said Santa would visit each house with a light on or if he sees children outside.

Donna Hellyer, who has lived in and around Hayden for more than 50 years, said the tradition was important.

“It’s very special to our community,” she said. “It’s another one of those nice little events that adds to life in Hayden.”

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