The doors will be open, all day, both days, from 8 in the morning until 10 at night, with volunteers on hand, so visitors can see the annual display of Christmas trees.
The trees are now a South Dakota tradition. The display began in 1981. Dottie Howe led the work.
There were 12 trees that year. Bill Janklow was in his first term as governor. By the time he was finishing his fourth term, in December 2002, the display had grown into a forest.
He ordered the hall lights purposely low, so the tree lights would stand out brighter.
When Mike Rounds took office in 2003, he brought a new idea. He suggested live trees, so that they could be planted again. That one was filed away instead.
The tree tradition has continued through five different governors — Janklow, George S. Mickelson, Walter Dale Miller, Janklow again, Rounds and now Dennis Daugaard — and has helped Pierre become a winter day-trip destination.
This year’s guest book has visitors signed in from 35 states and 20 nations. Midwest Living magazine featured the display this year as a site to see.
There are more than 90 trees this year. Planning began in August. The 20-member committee is co-chaired by Marty Davis and Barb Bjorneberg. The trees arrived in mid-November. The centerpiece tree, a blue spruce nearly 35 feet tall, came from Josh and Mary Arntz of Pierre.
How state Buildings and Grounds staff got the massive tree, whose branches spread perhaps 20 or more feet wide, through a double-doorway that measures perhaps six feet wide at the Capitol’s front, is a feat remindful of Houdini.
Another magic trick is how the decorating somehow gets done on the weekend before Thanksgiving by the committee, other local volunteers and more than five dozen civic, church and community groups from across the state.
Mike Mueller, who serves on the committee, estimated Thursday that more than 500 people are involved altogether. That includes the volunteers who staff the reception desks and the rotating sets of singers and musicians whose daily performance fills the rotunda with Christmas cheer.
Did we mention the theme this season is Joyous Sounds of Christmas?
There are 10 sponsored trees that recognize financial donations made by businesses in support of the display. Another 67 trees this year are decorated by groups and organizations. There is a waiting list of others who want a turn.
The centerpiece tree’s theme this year is 100 years of Girl Scouting. Troops statewide provided decorations.
The annual ceremony of the big tree’s lighting, featuring the governor, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is now part of the tradition, too.
If 2012 holds true to the recent past, visitors will number an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 over the five weeks the halls are decked and filled with trees.
Many of the people come in their own vehicles, but the local Chamber of Commerce also works with bus tour companies. An added attraction is the once-a-week tour of the governor’s residence.
But unlike my mother and her mother, whose Christmas trees always seemed to stay up at least a week after New Year’s Day (and sometimes through Valentine’s Day), the Capitol display has to come down fast.
Wednesday, Dec. 26, will be the last day this season to view the trees.