Missourians’ trees are the highlight of Christmas at The Missouri Governor’s Mansion
It’s nearly impossible to see every decoration spread throughout the four rooms of the 150-year-old house. There are trees decorated by children from across Missouri and docents on hand to explain the historical items found between portraits of some of Missouri’s former first ladies.
Every year on the first Friday of December, The Missouri Governor’s Mansion plays host to thousands of visitors for the official lighting of the Missouri-grown Christmas tree outside and candlelight tours inside.
The tradition began nearly five decades ago when first lady Carolyn Reid Bond led an initiative to open the house up to more guests. Today that has turned into two days of candlelight tours on the first floor of the house which is decorated by mansion staff and volunteers from Silver Dollar City.
There is a different theme each year, with past themes including Missouri’s bicentennial, tributes to previous governors and first ladies. This year’s theme is “ ’ Twas the Night Before Christmas.” First lady Teresa Parson, a Southwest Electric Cooperative member, says they picked the theme to be geared toward children.
“The children’s eyes light up when they come in and see the decorations and trees,” she says. “It’s usually cold out and you know they’ve been standing outside waiting. It’s pretty special. Just the joy it gives those kids in their eyes.”
According to Shari Childs, mansion director, a large portion of the decorations and ornaments are made in Missouri. “We try to be very careful and specific about incorporating Missouri into just about everything we do,” she says.
Out of the 11 trees on the grounds, one of Teresa’s favorites is the JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) tree. JAG is one of her statewide initiatives and helps students prepare to enter the workforce. Each year she hosts an essay contest with JAG and more than 70 winners visit the mansion. “They each bring an ornament from their school to be placed on a JAG tree that represents them in the house,” she says. “We’ve placed the tree in different locations each year.”
While many visitors come to see the interior of the mansion in all its beauty, it’s another holiday tradition that first greets them. For at least the past 30 years, the team at the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) scours the state for the perfect holiday tree to be displayed in the front yard of the mansion at the corner of Madison Street and Capitol Avenue.
Holly Dentner with MDC helps administer finding and transporting the perfect tree. In late summer or early fall the department puts out a request seeking submissions of trees to be donated for the mansion.
“Our priority is to find native or preferred species which would be eastern red cedar, Norway spruce or white pine,” she says. “The best candidates for us are going to be fully branched all the way around and are going to be big. We’re talking at least 30 feet, but preferably 40 feet tall.”
The trees picked are usually older, toward the end of their lives and probably planted decades ago and have grown too big for their yard.
Possible donors email in their application as well as pictures for MDC’s foresters to look over. Once they’ve zeroed in on a few possible candidates, their infrastructure management team checks each tree out to make sure it is accessible and they’ll be able to move it.
The 2021 tree was a Norway spruce that celebrated the 150th anniversary of the mansion’s construction and was donated by Steven and Carla Leible of Columbia. “Our tree had just gotten way too big and we had to do something about it,” Carla says. “Our son heard about it online and I thought it would be so cool if our tree got picked to be at the mansion.”
The Leibles were chosen and the crew from MDC moved the tree to the mansion the Monday after Thanksgiving. A few weeks later Carla was present for the tree lighting ceremony and candlelight tours of the mansion.
“We would’ve just had someone come out and cut the tree into pieces,” she says. “To see such a big, beautiful tree moved from our yard and decorated on the lawn of The Governor’s Mansion and to be there for the lighting was something we’ll remember.”
The 2022 lighting ceremony kicks off at 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2 with the candlelight tours immediately following until 9 p.m. There will be a second round of tours on Monday, Dec. 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. The tours are free and open to the public.
Whether it’s the decorations on the 40-foot tree outside or the ornaments and greenery inside the mansion, it’s a great time to visit Teresa says.
“We enjoy people coming out and sharing the house with them,” the first lady says. “This building is special anytime, but it’s really special during Christmastime.”
For more information on the candlelight tours visit www.mansion.mo.gov or call 573-751-4141.