It’s officially Christmastime in Pierre.
On Tuesday evening, Gov. Kristi Noem hosted the annual grand tree lighting ceremony as part of the Christmas at the Capitol festivities. This year’s theme is “Deck the Halls.” There was limited in-person attendance, but viewers could watch online as the event was live streamed.
“Here in Pierre, this is a tradition to kick off the holiday season that we all look forward to,” Pierre Mayor Steve Harding said.
The Christmas display in the Capitol rotunda features 83 Christmas trees decorated by volunteers from communities, schools, churches, nonprofits, and state government offices.
The centerpiece is a 26.5-foot Engelmann Spruce donated by Bryan and Lori Stahl of Onida. That tree was decorated by the South Dakota Nurses’ Association, complete with masked ornaments.
Noem said she was “thrilled” the Nurses’ Association sponsored the tree because it gave everyone a chance to honor nurses on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. In her speech, Noem spoke about Christmas trees as symbols of rebirth and renewal.
“Just like Christmas itself, these trees remind us that life and beauty are always around us, they are always present even during the coldest and the darkest months. It reminds us that we can get through these difficult times, and that we always have something to look forward to.
Noem said the birth of Jesus, the reason for the holiday, is “the most beautiful symbol of rebirth for our world.” Amidst her message of hope, she spoke to the challenges posed by COVID-19 during this holiday season.
“We have faced, in South Dakota and across the country, unique challenges that we haven’t faced before. COVID-19 has brought to us some of our darkest days. And those challenges have come in ways of lost livelihoods and impacts to families’ budgets, and the most tragic of all is that people have lost loved ones; people who will be missing,” Noem said. “Just know that during all these difficult times, especially today...that we will always remember we can get through it together. And no matter how cold and how dark the season may seem, we can look at the branches of the green Christmas trees that will be decorated...and remember that spring is on its way, and that we do have a promise of light and rebirth.”
First Gentleman Bryon Noem was away on business, so the Noems’ oldest daughter, Cassidy Peters, introduced this year’s special helpers for the official lighting of the trees. The Marnell family of Pierre, including their four adopted children, helped light the trees. They were chosen to help because of Noem’s focus on “safer, stronger families” in South Dakota, and as a testament to “the hope and renewal adoption can bring.” On a count of three, Arielle Marnell got to push the button which illuminated the rotunda.
Special guest Santa Claus greeted the young and the young at heart. With this year’s social distancing, there was no sitting on Santa’s lap. Instead, he unveiled his new mailbox. Children wrote letters to Santa and brought them to the lighting ceremony. For children visiting the Capitol before Christmas, Santa’s mailbox will be on the first floor near the South Dakota First Ladies and First Gentleman Exhibit.
Now through Dec. 26, the tree display is open for public viewing from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, including holidays and weekends. A fairly much non-stop itinerary of free entertainment music is available. People can follow the Christmas at the Capitol events on Facebook and Instagram. Other areas of the Capitol are also decorated for the holiday season, including the Capitol grounds.