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Holiday Tree

History of the California State Capitol Tree Lighting Ceremony

The first use of the California State Capitol occurred during a holiday celebration in December of 1869. Festive music and holiday decorations marked the celebration at our Capitol to dedicate the first use of the building by the Legislature, Governor and State Supreme Court.

In 1931, Governor James Rolph began the holiday tree lighting ceremony. He rearranged his main office located at that time in the west wing of the Capitol to accommodate a large decorated tree. Under the tree were gifts that were exchanged among his staff. This informal tradition continued with the next six governors. In 1951, the Governor's office moved to its present location in the East Annex, as did the holiday tree lighting ceremony.

Handcrafted Ornaments and Tradition of Tree Lighters

In 1982, after the major restoration of the Capitol was completed, the holiday tree ceremony was again brought back to the historic west wing. In 1983, the Governor together with the Department of General Services and the Department of Developmental Services updated the ceremony with a large tree placed on the west steps and decorated with ornaments hand made by children and adults with developmental disabilities at community and state-operated developmental centers' art programs. That same year, Governor Deukmejian, lit the tree from the interior of the first floor rotunda.

This holiday tradition continued until 1996 when California State Parks and the State Legislature reintroduced the historic holiday decorations with traditional holiday music being performed by musical groups from throughout the state.

Creating ornaments for the tree is a project that is really enjoyed by the individuals with developmental disabilities. Each year, there are new themes, and the creativity of the artists is impressive. The ornaments must be constructed of materials that will withstand the elements of wind and rain. The tree is also decorated with over 10,000 energy efficient LED lights.

Thirty-five years ago, California Governor Deukmejian and First Lady Gloria Deukmejian, started the tradition of inviting a child with developmental disabilities who receives services from one of the 21 nonprofit regional centers in the state, to hang an ornament and "hit the switch" to help kick off the holiday season.

On December 7, 2017, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. and First Lady Anne Gust Brown will light the Capitol Christmas tree with 7-year-old Sofia Garcia of Los Angeles. Sofia, who has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), receives services through Harbor Regional Center (HRC) and is a student in the second grade at El Cerrito Elementary School in Los Angeles.

For over 86 years, the Governor's Annual Capitol Tree lighting has evolved from a small office celebration into California's statewide commemoration of the holiday season.

Holiday imagery
Holiday imagery
Holiday imagery
Holiday imagery
Last Updated: 3/2/2018