South Dakota’s state capitol is a wonderful landmark any time of year, but step inside the door in November and December, and you’ll be greeted by the refreshing scent of mountain pine. A soft glow radiates through the halls. Carolers and musicians fill the air with holiday music. And if you stop on the right day, you might get a slice of pie.
Christmas at the Capitol is one of South Dakota’s unique holiday traditions. It began with just 12 trees in 1981. Today nearly 100 finely decorated trees fill the capitol rotunda and three floors of historic hallways. The centerpiece is South Dakota’s official Christmas tree, often a stately spruce carefully chosen and plucked from the Black Hills.
The annual event begins with a lighting ceremony on November 25, and the capitol remains open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through December 27. Special events through the holiday season include story time for children and Pie Day on December 13.
Cities, businesses, nonprofit groups and other civic organizations apply throughout the year for a tree. If selected, they spend the weekend before Thanksgiving busily stringing lights and tinsel and hanging handcrafted ornaments. Among the capitol’s most treasured pieces are a set of hand-painted porcelain ornaments from the state china painters organization and a wooden nativity, believed to be nearly 125 years old, that the local Knights of Columbus sets up on the second floor.