PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The Christmas spirit is back at the South Dakota Capitol big as ever.
Leah Svendsen is co-chair for the 2019 Christmas at the Capitol celebration. “Every year is so different. This is my fifth year and since I started it’s been a candy theme, a glamorous theme, last year it was all glitter and glitz and sparkle. This year it’s very cozy and homey,” she told KELOLAND News.
Svensen said Christmas at the Capitol is “really an all-year project. We’re actually thinking this year about what next year’s theme is going to be as we decorate. And so last year as we were decorating the more-glamorous theme, we were thinking cozy and homey, and so we came up with ‘Hometown Christmas’ for this year.
“And by coincidence, the South Dakota Realtors’ seventy-fifth anniversary is this year. We had no idea that we’d be picking them as our big-tree sponsor — but again, the hometown theme ties in,” she continued.
By another coincidence Bryon Noem, whose wife is Governor Kristi Noem, recently announced his project to draw positive attention to rural communities throughout the state.
“The First Gentleman just released his initiative, which is small-town South Dakota, and I’m like, this couldn’t tie together any better than that,” Svendsen said.”It’s like, we couldn’t have planned it better had we organized it ourselves.”
She said “about 88 trees” were brought into the Capitol for the 2019 display. The main rows run down both sides of the long east and west corridors and fill the rotunda on the building’s second floor. More displays are on the first, third and fourth floors.
“Between 85 and 90,” Svendsen said, “we’re not really positive. We’ve done some shuffling. We have a couple extras. Sometimes we share with the (governor’s) mansion. So right around 90 trees though.”
Communities, schools, organizations, state departments and many other groups are assigned specific trees that each group decorates. Much of that activity comes in the next few days.
The centerpiece tree is a Colorado blue spruce, trimmed to 25.5 feet, that came from the Pierre yard of Andrew Forest, who works for the state Game, Fish and Parks Department, and Ciara Rounds, who works for the state Department of Tourism and is a niece of a former governor, U.S. Senator Mike Rounds.
The display opens to the general public November 27 with a formal lighting ceremony at 7 p.m. CT that the Noems will host in the rotunda. Removal of the decorations and trees starts December 27.
Visitors must use the Capitol’s north doors because of increased security this year. Other doors on the east, west and south sides, such as the main stairs into the Capitol rotunda, are locked for security reasons. All doors can open from inside in case of an emergency and can be freely used to exit.