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For A Capitol Christmas, Stop By Austin And A Magical History Tour

A tour of the Texas capitol is memorable any time of year, but during the holidays it has a special kind of magic.

Near the south entrance of the pink granite monument a giant evergreen twinkles with thousands of tiny lights and a menorah reminds visitors that the season is celebrated by Texans of many faiths.

But it’s inside where the holiday spirit really comes to life.

Every day at noon during the season the cavernous rotunda echoes with the sounds of the season as groups celebrate with song. 

Mike Lacki has driven nearly 200 miles from his hometown of Benbrook near Fort Worth to hear carolers from the Walsh Middle School Choir in Round Rock. 

“Well, our granddaughter is in a choir that’s going to be singing here in the Capitol, and we thought it was a very special occasion to come down and see her, and to come down and see her sing in the state capitol, such an honored place.” Lacki explained.

Guides leading a special holiday tour direct visitors up a flight of stairs to the legislative chambers where lawmakers will begin meeting next month.

Breathtaking red poinsettias decorate the Senate, but the drama during the holidays – and often during the legislative session- is in the House of Representatives.

Nancy Korzilius, with the State Preservation Board, says that’s where a 19-foot Virginia Pine from Elves Farm in Denison celebrates the state’s cultural and geographic diversity.

“So every (state) representative, of which there are 150 in Texas, receives a blank ornament, and they take it back to their district and decorate it.  Some are decorated professionally.  Some are decorated by children.  Some are decorated by artists, local artists,” she said.

San Antonio Democrat Joe Farris’s ornament showcases starry nights at two historic missions in his district. San Antonio Republican Lyle Larson’s ornament projects hope for snow on Christmas by featuring the Edwards Aquifer in glittering white. Houston Rep. Senfronia Thompson chose an ornament with a blue papier-mâché peacock to represent a pre-Islamic deity important to some of her constituents.

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Credit Ryan Poppe
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Troy Hopkins, a physical therapy technician at the Brooke Army Medical Center, painted the ornament provided by The Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio’s District 121, which is represented by House Speaker Joe Straus.

It displays a Purple Heart, its ribbon flowing through the men and women who serve, and a prosthetic arm and leg, to symbolize the place treating many of the country’s wounded warriors.

By tradition the Speaker of the House’s spouse presents the official ornament which typically highlights architectural designs in the Texas Capitol and is sold to raise money to preserve the building.

This year the Speaker’s wife, Julie Straus of San Antonio, chose a design that depicts the blue-layered glass windows that make up the skylight structure in the roof of the Capitol. They were first installed in 1888.

It’s all pretty impressive for Jordi Cervantes who says he hasn’t seen this kind of pageantry inside public buildings in his hometown of Mexico City.

“They put lights outside the public buildings, but they’re like big lights, like the figures of piñatas, flowers or stars, but it’s outside the building.  Inside the building we don’t get a chance to visit like this,” said Cervantes, who appreciates the beauty and cultural diversity on display in the Texas Capitol.

There’s also the official state capitol ornament traditionally presented by the Speaker of the House’s wife. This year that’s Speaker Joe Straus’ wife Julie of San Antonio. 

The 2014  ornament features the oculus, blue pieces of glass imported from Belgium that are part of the skylight on the north side of the capitol.

The State Preservation Board’s Kyle Schlafer says it the official ornaments depict special architectural features in the capitol and are sold to raise money to preserve the building. 

“Sometimes it’s been about the seals on the rotunda, or take for example our famous capitol door hinges and doorknobs,” he said.

It’s all pretty impressive for Jordi Cervantes who says he hasn’t seen this kind of pageantry inside public buildings in his hometown of Mexico City.

“They put lights outside the public buildings, but they’re like big lights, like the figures of piñatas, flowers or stars, but it’s outside the building, inside the building we don’t get a chance to visit like this.” 

The holiday tree in the Texas House of Representatives will be on display through Jan. 2.   You can also see an online exhibit of the ornaments created for each legislative district.