Dakota Datebook

Oh, Christmas Tree

Thursday, December 13, 2007

In 1913, the Bismarck Tribune proudly stated that businesses and population in Bismarck had grown tremendously. It judged this statement by the increased bank deposits and post office receipts, as well as by increased real estate and home building. Bismarck grew in other ways, too—by one Christmas tree.
The tree was sponsored by the city, and was to be decorated with “many colored electric lights” and set up from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve.
This “new feature for celebrating the Yuletide” was adopted by other locales, including Aberdeen, South Dakota; New York, where a 75-foot tree was set up in Madison Square; Washington, where a tree was set up on the capitol grounds; and Minneapolis, which set up an 80-foot tree. Bismarck was the only city in North Dakota to join in this new tradition.
The Bismarck Tribune took up the cause of raising and gathering funds for the tree. The Elks Club donated seventy-five dollars, and other organizations and churches showed support and promised money. The Hughes Electric company agreed to provide lights enough to “illuminate it brilliantly.” W. A. MacDonald of the Northern Pacific gave permission for the tree to be put up in the center of the Northern Pacific park. On this day, the goal was reached, and Bismarck sent a telegram to Fargo, ordering its community tree.
“It is a movement in the direction of enterprise and will put Bismarck on the map as one of the first cities in the United States to recognize the latest, up-to-date manner in which to mark the happiest holiday of the year,” the Tribune reported.
However, this tree meant much more than enterprise for the community. Churches and other organizations joined up with the Women’s Central Christmas committee “in making the coming Christmas the biggest celebration of the day ever held in Bismarck.” The tree would be “a thing of beauty and will add cheer to the city, and will be a source of pleasure for the poor children who cannot have a tree in their home.”
Extra toys, clothing, books, food and money were also collected for poor children and their families, and even those who donated money and time for the tree did so out of the sentiment that “there will not be a little girl in Bismarck who does not get a doll for Christmas,” that every child get what they need, plus a little extra for the season.
Ironically, with weather so nice in November and December that “trees are budding and lilac bushes are budding,” Bismarck was no winter wonderland. However, with the prospect of their community Christmas tree and the rousing spirit of “goodfellowship,” the 1913 celebration made Bismarck “the Christmas City of the Dakotas.”
Written by Sarah Walker
Bismarck Daily Tribune, Sunday, Dec. 14, 1913
p.1, 2, 4

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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