Music at the Capitol

Get ready for some holiday fun on your next visit to the California State Capitol. Beautiful, vintage decorations create a lovely backdrop for a variety of diverse and amazing live holiday musical performances in the Capitol Rotunda each day.


For more information about scheduled performances, call (916) 324-0333 or visit http://capitolmuseum.ca.gov/the-museum/capitol-holiday-music-program



“The scene seems surreal as you stand in the middle of the decorated state capital with lovely, live Christmas music playing. It’s a magical encounter you will never forget.”

This special holiday experience is made possible by the State Capitol Museum and California State Parks in association with the California State Legislature Joint Rules Committee. Additionally, the Governor’s Office and the Department of General Services have worked collaboratively to preserve holiday traditions inside the Capitol.


For more information about scheduled performances, call (916) 324-0333 or visit http://capitolmuseum.ca.gov/the-museum/capitol-holiday-music-program


Capitol Holiday History


Governor James Rolph and staff in 1931 in the Governor's Office.

Music and celebration have taken place in the California State Capitol since as early as December 16, 1869. A large musical celebration was presented, on that day, to feature the opening of the Capitol. The halls of the Capitol were decorated with flowers and two musical bands performed in the Assembly and Senate Chambers.


On December 17, 1883, D.O. Mills’ gift of the statue, Columbus at the Court of Spain, was officially presented to the State of California. It was intended as a holiday gesture. The governors of California established a tradition of celebrating the winter holiday season by decorating their offices and the Capitol with garland and placing a tree in their offices. The earliest photographs of this celebration show Governor James Rolph and his staff in 1931 standing around a large, decorated tree in his office. Large holiday trees were featured in the Capitol rotunda and in the East Annex until in 1983 concerns about fire safety forced placement of these decorated trees outside, near the west entrance.


In 1983, under the direction of Governor George Deukmejian, the Department of Developmental Services became involved in the decoration as well as the ceremony of the annual event. Children and adults with developmental disabilities created thousands of hand-crafted ornaments for the tree. A child with a disability was selected to place a symbolic ornament on the tree and turn the switch that lights the tree during the ceremony. Both of these traditions continue today.


In 1996, a collaborative effort by California State parks, the Department of General Services and the Joint Rules Committee of the Legislature resulted in reintroducing the historic decorations. This consists of flower arrangements and the governor’s holiday tree lighting ceremony to the First floor Rotunda as well as the West Steps of the Capitol. Also, in 1996, the annual Holiday Music program was officially established. It features musical groups performing traditional holiday music in the Rotunda from December 1st through the 23rd. Although the holiday tree is still located outside the building, historic decorations along with musical groups from throughout the state help capture the historical spirit of holiday celebrations from the Capitol’s past.


The performances happen on the first floor rotunda. The cost is FREE!


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This story first appeared in Ardent

for Life Holiday 2014 issue.