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Capitol Christmas - A Winter Wonderland for All to Enjoy

Each holiday season about 20,000 visitors enjoy the 90 Christmas trees that decorate South Dakota’s State Capitol.

In this Take A Moment, Special Projects Coordinator Leah Haugan takes us behind the scenes to learn more about this magical Christmas tradition that dates back to 1981.

“I’ve always loved Christmas. I’ve always loved just the magic of it. I’m a church goer so I’ve always loved the Christmas Eve service and all the candles and just the whole mood of Christmas. And the glorious day when baby Jesus was born, I’ve always found the magic in that.

I got lucky. I started my state career as an accountant. This job opened up and I said, “that’s the job I’ve always dreamed of having.”

“What’s not to fun about dressing this building up for Christmas? There’s just so many cool things. There’s ledges, marble banisters and marble pillars, it does not take a whole lot to make it extra pretty.

Being our forty-third display, if you came through as a child in 1981 it is likely you have come through a few times during your lifetime and now you are bringing your grandchildren in, and I feel like the generational, getting to see the trees, and then getting to show the trees to your kids and their kids – is the magic of it.

I feel like it really enhances people’s lives. They look forward to it. About four years ago we were named in the Top Ten Christmas Displays in the World…in the world.

I am the coordinator, which means I send out all the communications to people who want to apply to decorate a tree. I have 16 people on the committee, we get together often to talk about it - and then Buildings and Grounds Crew, that is probably another 20 people. I would love to give kudos to them all by name, they know who you are. I just get so much help with it.

If you would come in November before the Lighting Ceremony you would find the hallways on first floor lined with totes and boxes and crates and you name it – we really make a mess before it gets better.

So, last year we closed the Capitol down because of the blizzards. So, I think in our heads we were like, “winter wonderland.” That’s what we went with. And the team did a great job of making it just the magic of winter through our hallways.

We have flocked trees and white twinkly lights and little white owls, there is a scavenger hunt to see if you can find all the little white owls.

It’s magical, it truly is. When people come in for lighting ceremony all the lights are off. There is not a single tree that is lit. And the Governor selects a special family or child who gets to light all the trees up during our ceremony. And our electricians hook all the trees up to a single switch. So, this child comes up on stage and flips the switch and all the lights come on at the same time and you can hear a gasp in the room, just in awe of it.”

During this story, you enjoyed singing from Stanley County Elementary Choir.

To view a live stream of Christmas at the Capitol, click below.

Lura Roti grew up on a ranch in western South Dakota but today she calls Sioux Falls home. She has worked as a freelance journalist for more than two decades. Lura loves working with the SDPB team to share the stories of South Dakota’s citizens and communities. And she loves sharing her knowledge with the next generation. Lura teaches a writing course for the University of Sioux Falls.