A tree returns to Minnesota’s Capitol rotunda this holiday season

A balsam fir decorated for the holidays
A 17-foot balsam fir stands in the rotunda of Minnesota's Capitol. The tree was placed in the statehouse building Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Updated: Dec. 11, 2019, 1:58 p.m.

For the first time in five years, they’ll be decking the halls — or at least the rotunda — in Minnesota’s Capitol.

A 17-foot balsam fir will be brought in Tuesday, a couple of weeks before Christmas. It revives a tradition that lapsed when the building underwent a restoration.

“It is a tradition that dates back to the early 1980s, having a tree within the Minnesota Capitol and being able to celebrate this part of Minnesota agriculture,” said Karen Lanthier of the Agriculture Department's Minnesota Grown program.

The tree was harvested from the Happy Land Tree Farms in Sandstone, Minn., which was this year’s State Fair grand champion. The farm also supplied some trees outside the governor’s residence.

“I guess they figured we deserve the honor of the rotunda,” said Sandy Olson, whose husband, Ken, co-founded the family tree farm. “We’re excited about it.”

Olson said it was a special challenge to dig the showcase tree out from a foot of snow.

“We haven’t known about it very long. They just called us here not that long ago,” she said. “We kind of scrambled, we found one and we’re going to bring it. Hopefully it’ll do the trick.”

Olson said her husband excels in growing Christmas trees.

“He takes pride in every single tree he plants. He plants them; he takes care of them. He’ll find those special trees,” she said. “He trims them; he fertilizes them. He babies them, I guess you could say.”

It’ll be decorated on Wednesday.

“We’re really going to put in a group effort to really get it all looking really great for the holidays,” Lanthier said.

Partly due to a yearslong restoration project, there hasn’t been a holiday tree inside the Capitol since 2013. One was displayed outside last year.

Adding to the festive mood, several school choirs are due to perform in the rotunda between now and Christmas.

Editor’s note (Dec. 11, 2019): Happy Land Tree Farms supplied two of several Christmas trees outside the governor’s residence this season. The tallest decorated tree came from a state forest via the DNR. An earlier version of this story was unclear on the trees' origins.

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