The Annual Oregon Capitol Christmas Celebration is Cancelled Due to the Construction

Christmas Celebration: There is typically a huge party at the Oregon State Capitol on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, complete with Santa Claus, local officials, guest choirs, free cookies, and a 30-foot tree.

This year, though, COVID wasn’t enough to prevent Holidays at the Capitol from being canceled due to an ongoing construction project.

The Annual Oregon Capitol Christmas Celebration is Cancelled Due to the Construction

As a result of a current $506 million renovation project to make the Capitol building more earthquake-resistant, the tradition, which began in the early 1980s, will not resume until 2025. The renovations will bring the original 1938 structure and the 1977 expansion up to code for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as well as improve the building’s mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.

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Although legislators’ offices have remained open, the Capitol has been largely closed since the summer. Before the start of the legislative session in January, the public will be allowed to enter the Capitol building from State Street, on the south side of the building, directly across from Willamette University.

Before the pandemic of 2020, a month-long holiday celebration with performances by school and community choirs and guests from across the state was held annually at the state Capitol.

The Annual Oregon Capitol Christmas Celebration is Cancelled
The Annual Oregon Capitol Christmas Celebration is Cancelled

The Oregon Department of Forestry planned to send in a 30-foot Christmas tree from the Clatsop State Forest to serve as the rotunda’s major focal point, along with several other trees of varying sizes to decorate the rest of the building. The state seal in the rotunda’s center was decorated with a lit garland and poinsettias.

Stacy Nalley, the Capitol’s public outreach coordinator, said that about 1,000 people showed up on average for the tree-lighting event on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving.

A local high school choir would play on the great staircase outside the House chamber, and they would listen to a few speakers (perhaps the governor, Senate president, and House speaker) afterward. When Santa Claus appeared at the bottom of the grand staircase instead of the chimney, everyone knew it was time to put up the Christmas tree.

Nalley remarked, “It’s truly magical and special.”

That would kick off a month of celebrations in the nation’s capital, with choirs from nearby schools and communities making the trek to perform on the House steps every day of the week. According to Nalley, the Capitol’s holiday programming used to attract around 10,000 people, including roughly 5,000 performing students.

According to Nalley, a choir from Hermiston went the extra mile to be there. Driving time from Salem to the little city in Umatilla County is close to four hours.

The fact that a school traveled so far to perform in the rotunda was “exciting,” as Nalley put it. There is nowhere else that can compare to the rotunda when it comes to acoustics, thus it’s a favorite venue for choir teachers.

The Capitol building was quarantined in December 2020 due to a COVID outbreak. Capitol employees, including Senate President Peter Courtney and then-House Speaker Tina Kotek, as well as Santa Claus, taped a virtual tree-lighting video that year, and reruns of the 2019 choir performances aired on public television.

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The Capitol opened to the public in 2021, although the omicron strain of the COVID virus was spreading rapidly throughout the state at the time. The building was decorated, but neither a lighting ceremony nor live choir performances took place there. Instead, a giant TV in the rotunda showed submissions from several choirs.

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