The annual Silver and Snowflakes Festival of Lights takes place Friday, but the history of the event goes back more than 100 years for Carson City.
The festival is the kick-off event of the holiday season, where the state Christmas tree at the Capitol grounds is lit for the holiday season.
The tradition of decorating the tree started in 1914, when the local Leisure Hour Club came up with the idea to decorate a living pine tree to celebrate Christmas. According to Patricia Cafferata’s book “Christmas in Nevada,” they chose one of the pines in the southwest corner of the Capitol grounds as the perfect tree for the holidays.
“The organizations decided that one of the tall, stately pines in the southwest corner of the capital grounds would be the perfect tree to bedeck,” Cafferata wrote.
They had a celebration that Christmas Eve with nearly 1,500 people present to enjoy carols and a special visit and gift from Santa.
In 1914, when the Leisure Hour Club first approved this tradition, the Nevada Appeal wrote it went to various churches and organizations to help fund the endeavour.
“As a result of the committee’s work, which has now been made a general one, made up from the membership of various organizations Carson City will undoubtedly have a Christmas tree celebration on Christmas eve that will be both unique and interesting,” the article wrote. “...The idea is to use the big fir tree in the capital grounds near the southwest corner, and the grounds all about will be electronically lighted. From the tree, aside from the lights and ornaments will hang presents for all the children of the town.”
The article even predicted the long standing tradition, claiming in 1914 “a great interest is being manifested in the event and it promises to be a crowning success.”
The tradition, however stopped in 1973 during the energy crisis. The governor at the time, Donal “Mike” O’Callaghan wanted to preserve energy during the crisis and declared the Christmas tree would remain dark.
It wasn’t until 1988 the tree lit up again, and has remained lit each year since.
Carson City will hold the Silver and Snowflakes Festival of Lights Friday, 101 years after the lighting of the first tree. The Festival of Lights is a more recent event for Carson City, as the result of a community getting together under the Chamber umbrella to bring holiday cheer, said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ronnie Hannaman. Hannaman credited Fred Nietz, who recently passed away, along with his wife Maxine, for getting Silver & Snowflakes off the ground.
“There is no place like the holidays in a small town and though we are no longer really considered a small town in the truest sense of the word, we have never lost that small town feel,” Hannaman said. “No other community can duplicate our introduction to the holiday season, for there is only one state capital in this state. Here in the heart of Nevada, we do it up right.”
The community feel and unity is what brings many Carson City residents out to the tree lighting, despite usually frigid temperatures.
“It is something to do as a community, sure you can do a lot of other things like go to Reno, go everywhere else, but its doing something with the same people with your family,” said Lily Hack, a member of the Leisure Hour Club. “I consider Carson City family. It’s a fun evening.”
This year, 5th graders from local Carson City schools will be singing Christmas carols at the event and organizations will be serving mulled wine with complementary mugs for guests to take home, said Dan Neverett, president of the Leisure Hour.
“It is really a community thing and it is good kickoff to the holidays,” Neverett said. “It is really pretty and it is fun to see the little kids singing and things.”
However, it may be the final year for the Carson City City Tree.
Carson City may have a new tree soon. Neverett, said the city has planted a backup tree because the one that has been used the last several years has started dying and they have had to start cutting back the tree.