In 1981, South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow asked his trusted friend, Dottie Howe, to create a handmade Christmas at the capitol. With creative inspiration and a knack for holiday spirit, Dottie made paper ornaments while kids and senior citizens made paper garland. The rotunda of the capitol building then hosted 12 Christmas trees, adorned solely with the handmade paper decorations.
Thus, a tradition was born.
While Christmas at the Capitol has evolved since its debut in 1981, the mission has remained the same: Enchance Christmas spirit at the Capitol.
Dottie Howe continued to produce a worthwhile event at the capitol for the next 16 years, with 30 trees in 1988 and 50 trees in 1997. This year, the 40th year of Christmas at the Capitol, 83 trees stand on three levels of the capitol building, decorated by various organizations, families, and groups from around the state.
The China Painters of South Dakota decorate a tree with hand-painted ornaments each year, and some of the painted ornaments from 40 years ago are still in use today.
Dawn Hill explains the multitude of sponsors and volunteers it takes each year to keep Christmas at the Capitol going strong. From the retrieval and transport of the trees to members of the decoration committee, corporations, and the community, Christmas at the Capitol would not be what it is today without strong state and local support.
From a simple favor asked in 1981, the most unique and spirited capitol holiday tradition in the country continues to this day.
Hopefully, you can make it to “Pie Day” at the Capitol, this December 4th. If you can’t, however, be sure to choose another day to wander the hallways of the Capitol building to observe the masterful tree decorations, the dazzling lights, and the living history of a beloved South Dakota holiday tradition.
Drawing between 20 – 25,000 visitors each year (even from 14-25 foreign countries), Christmas at the Capitol is more than just another holiday display. It’s truly an all-American staple of the Christmas season.
For more details on Christmas at the Capitol, visit here.