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Holidays at the Capitol

Around the week after Thanksgiving, the holidays start to pop up in and around the Texas Capitol! The House and Senate Chambers are decorated with Virginia pine trees from a north Texas tree farm. The trees were harvested and transported with assistance from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). The TPWD park rangers from Eisenhower State Park named the Senate tree "Mamie" (after former First Lady Eisenhower), and Lake Mineral Wells State Park rangers called the House's tree "Ruby," honoring the beautiful red color of the cardinals who reside in their park. 


Clockwise from left: 1) Senate chambers decorated with "Mamie," as well as its traditional poinsettias on each desk. 2) Wreaths adorn the gallery of the Senate. 3) Each representative's district contributes an ornament to decorate "Ruby." 4) The day after "Ruby" arrived in the House chamber, staff worked to adorn the tree with lights and other decorations.



Holiday spirit is not contained to the chambers, though! The sights and sounds of the season are all over through the month of December. You can read past blog posts to learn more about the holiday season at the Capitol.


Clockwise from left: 1) Visitors approaching the Capitol from Congress will see the tree just outside the Capitol grounds. 2) A wreath adorns the door into the Governor's Public Reception Room on the second floor of the Capitol. 3) The "Holiday Wishes" tree gives Capitol staffers the opportunity to fill holiday wishes for children in the care of Child Protective Services. 4) and 5) The Capitol Rotunda plays host to many different performing groups throughout the holiday season. 4) On December 16, members of the Austin Symphony donned reindeer antlers as they performed and children gathered around. 5) The Dripping Springs High School Jazz Cats sang in the Rotunda on December 5.


'Tis the Season

Each year, the House and Senate chambers are gaily decked out for the holidays with large Christmas trees—both more than 20 feet tall! Decorating trees of that magnitude presents a challenge, but with the help of constituents, Representatives and Senators do just that.

House and Senate members work with their communities to provide an ornament decorated to represent their districts. Members might engage professional artists, school children, family members, or others, to paint glass balls and/or insert items inside and out to adorn the ornaments.

Since 2009, the House has compiled an album each year to document the ornaments (see right); you can view the current album in the House chamber while the tree is on display through January 2. The LRL has acquired and scanned past albums—peruse them online from our catalog, or visit us to see the books in person!

Clockwise from top: Selections from the 2009 and 2016 'Tis the Season House albums of district ornaments; Sample of a Senate ornament; Sen. Jane Nelson is one of several senators who tweeted pictures from the Senate's tree decorating party; Sample of a House ornament.

Session for the Holidays

Usually, the Texas Legislature is not in session around Christmas time. Since the 16th Legislature (1879), the regular session has begun in January and adjourned in May, generally avoiding winter holidays. (See Article 3141 of the 1879 Revised Statutes of Texas that established this schedule.) However, there were a few instances when sessions started in December and/or continued through the holidays.


In 1847, the 2nd Legislature began work on December 13, 1847, and concluded on March 20, 1848. The representatives and senators worked on Christmas Eve, which fell on a Friday that year. They did take a long weekend and reconvened on Tuesday, December 28. 


The 3rd Legislature not only convened on Christmas Eve in 1849 and returned to work on the day after Christmas, they also had a called session in 1850 that ran into the first few days of December. 


From the 3rd Legislature through the 8th Legislature, the senators and representatives convened in November and adjourned in February. Typically they met on Christmas Eve, then adjourned until December 26, but they sometimes took a longer break, particularly when the holiday fell on a weekend.


During the Civil War and Reconstruction years, the legislature’s regular sessions were less consistent. The 9th and 10th Legislatures convened in November, but adjourned in January and December, respectively. The 11th Legislature didn’t convene until August 1866, and the 12th Legislature didn’t begin its regular session till January 1871. During these years, if session fell around Christmas, the legislators generally only took Christmas Day off before returning to work.


After an act was passed by the 16th Legislature setting the day and time for session to begin biennially (now Government Code § 301.001), the possibility of session running into the winter holidays was mostly history. However, there are those special sessions! The 71st Legislature had six called sessions, with the second adjourning on December 12; the 72nd Legislature’s fourth called session adjourned on December 3.


These days, Government Code § 662.003 designates December 24-26 as a holiday, but in the days before Texas’ regular session had an officially mandated start time, anything was possible for the legislature! The LRL hopes you enjoy a wonderful holiday season. 


Images: top right, House Christmas tree; bottom left: Senate Christmas tree; cover image: detail of House tree.

The Texas Capitol Ornament Program



This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the Texas Capitol ornament program. In 1996, Nelda Laney (pictured left), wife of then-House Speaker Pete Laney, began this program as a way to raise money for restoration projects and education programs at the Capitol. Nadine Craddick, wife of former Speaker Tom Craddick, and Julie Straus, wife of current Speaker Joe Straus, have carried on this tradition. So far, the money raised from ornament sales has helped pay for several projects, including the restoration of the historic paintings within the Capitol as well as installation of historically accurate floor coverings in the House and the Senate chambers.


Typically, the official ornament highlights an architectural detail of the Texas State Capitol building. For example, designs from previous years include the rotunda ceiling, the rotunda floor, the Capitol's front gate, and the Goddess of Liberty statue, to name a few. This year, however, the Official Capitol Ornament depicts a Christmas tree decorated with the official ornaments from previous years.


Official Capitol ornaments are available for purchase at the Capitol Gift Shop or the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum Gift Shop.



Fun Facts:

  • Nelda Laney was inspired to create this program after receiving a fundraising ornament sold by the White House historical society.
  • Since 1997, the Texas Bar Journal has featured the Official State Capitol Ornament on the cover of their December Issue.
  • Of the 20 ornament designs, 18 feature at least one star.
  • In 2014, a collector bought the one millionth ornament on eBay for $5,176.
  • The Capitol Visitors Center has two display cases that feature information regarding the design and assembly of the Official State Capitol Ornament.


 Below are photos of the Official Capitol Ornaments from 1996 - 2016.


An advertisement for the first Official
Capitol Ornament, featured in the October 1996 issue ofTexas Monthly.
The Official Capitol Ornaments from 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000.


The Official Capitol Ornaments from 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004.
The Official Capitol Ornaments from 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008.


The Official Capitol Ornaments from 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.
The Official Capitol Ornaments from 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.


Photos of the Official State Capitol Ornaments from 1998, 2001, and 2002 are from the covers of the Texas Bar Journal.


District Ornament Project at the Texas State Capitol

What makes your community special? Since 2009, Texas artists have captured the spirit of their House Districts on glass ornaments used to decorate the House Chamber's 25-foot Christmas tree. The District Ornament Project tradition started when Julie Straus, wife of Speaker Joe Straus, was contemplating how to decorate such a large tree. Fortunately, Texas is a large state, with 150 districts, and has plenty of talented artists to help out.

"We bought hundreds of these clear glass ornaments and invited members to identify something special about their district, something about the way their community celebrated Christmas, and illustrate that on one of these ornaments," Straus said. "What came back was just beyond anything we ever could have imagined."

Some districts' ornaments are painted by Representatives' family members, some by professional artists, some by school children. Ornaments may represent superlatives—such as a rose-themed ornament for District 6, in honor of Tyler's nickname "The Rose Capital of America." They may depict local heroes, such as the portrait of Waco-born WWII hero Doris Miller on the District 56 ornament for 2015. Many are just full of holiday cheer! The tree will be on display at the State Capitol through January 3, but to get a closer look at the ornaments, an album is compiled each year and posted online. You also can see some of this year's ornaments in this photo set from the San Antonio Express-News.

1) From birds to grapefruits and much more, the District Ornament Project showcases the diversity of Texas' natural and human resources.
2) The Senate Christmas tree is a new tradition and also features ornaments celebrating Texas and its citizens.
3) In recent years, the Senate's holiday tradition was to decorate with poinsettias on the desks. In 2015, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick decided to add a tree "to make the Christmas spirit in the Capitol even bigger."


O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

The arrival of the Capitol Christmas trees is a tradition cherished by many. Three 7-foot Virginia Pines arrived by horse-drawn carriage at the Capitol on Tuesday, November 29th. The trees are from the Spring Creek Growers, a family-owned farm located in Montgomery County, and were delivered by Carla Jones, owner of Spring Creek Growers and President of the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association. Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott, Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw, and Patricia Shipton of the Speaker's Office were on hand to greet Mrs. Jones. The trees are placed in various locations within the Capitol. 


Spring Creek Growers deliver Christmas
cheer to the Capitol.
Welcoming Carla Jones and family.

Accompanying the smaller trees were the 25-foot Christmas trees for the House and Senate chambers. These iconic trees are each about 10 years old and 12 feet in diameter, and come from the Elves Christmas Tree Farm. This is the sixth consecutive year that the farm has supplied Christmas trees for the Capitol.


Marshall Cathey of Elves Christmas Tree Farm loads the
25-foot tree onto a trailer. Lynnette George/Herald Democrat.


Senate Christmas Tree
House Christmas Tree