The State Capitol is more than a building where laws are made. This month, the iconic Pierre structure takes on a bit of magic, housing a forest of Christmas Trees decorated by community groups, businesses, churches, schools, and state agencies. Co-coordinator Dawn Hill fill us in on this year’s Christmas at the Capitol.

What makes this a special thing for the people of South Dakota? 

Dawn Hill: No other capitol building in the United States does what South Dakota does!  We bring in over 90 live trees to be decorated. Our display is open to the public seven days a week, including Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.

Who are some of the groups participating this year? 

DH: Spark of Hope, Pancreatic Cancer Network, South Dakota Farmer’s Union, Town & Kountry 4-H Club, Northern State University, Lions Eye and Tissue Bank, Country Pride Coop, and Rosebud Mission.

What is one of the most creative themes you’ve seen? 

DH: It’s always fun to see how the groups interpret the theme each year and decorate their trees. One of my favorite themes in the past few years was “Christmas in the Great Outdoors.” Trees were decorated with pheasants, deer, bears, owls, snowmen, outdoor winter activities, snowflakes, mittens, ice skates, sleds and sleighs, and snow angels. The South Dakota Tree was decorated by the GFP Outdoor Campus. Santa was decked out in blaze orange and perched on an actual tree stand in the tree! Below the tree was a camping scene, complete with a tent and “campfire.” It was very fitting…very South Dakota!

Where do the trees come from?

DH: The tallest tree in the rotunda – called The South Dakota Tree – always comes from South Dakota and is donated by a resident, homeowner, or organization within the state. The corporate and community trees come from Wisconsin Tree Farms Inc. in Merrill, Wisc. We partner with the South Dakota Department of Transportation to get the trees and bring them back to Pierre.

What is one of your most special memories of this event? 

DH: I’ve been involved with the event for nine years and have many wonderful memories. This is just my second year in the role of co-coordinator. One of my most special memories is from last year, when the family of Dottie Howe came to decorate a special tree in her honor. Dottie coordinated Christmas at the Capitol from its inception in 1981 through 1997. She passed away in July 2015, so we wanted to do something special to honor her, as did Dottie’s family. It was a heartwarming experience to watch her family decorate the tree with the love and devotion and attention to detail that would have made Dottie so proud.

How can new groups get involved in CATC in the future? 

DH: Any group or organization interested in decorating a Christmas tree at the Capitol can contact  me by calling (605) 773-3178 or e-mail 

CATC is open daily from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. For more info about special events during CATC, visit

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