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A brief history of Butte's iconic Christmas decorations

Iconic Christmas Decorations adorn the Mining City
Butte's Iconic Christmas Decorations
Posted at 10:11 AM, Nov 29, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-29 12:11:35-05

BUTTE — 'Tis the season for Christmas lights, and the main streets in Butte have already been decked out for about a week now. But did you know that holiday lights like these ones have a long history in the Mining City?

"So Christmas lights in Butte started in the mid-1920s, and then you don’t see much about the Christmas lights until 1937," says Aubrey Jaap, director of the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.

Jaap and her crew recently came across a vintage photo of a man atop a 30-foot-tall ladder stringing up Christmas decorations across one of Butte's main streets, and Jaap says originally the lights were sponsored by various community-minded organizations as a way to boost morale during hard times.

Jaap says articles at the time show the Mining City coming out of the Great Depression when morale was really down, but across the city, businesses and private citizens began spring cleanup efforts to boost pride in the city. At the same time, you begin to see articles talking about the Christmas lights being installed in Butte’s intersections.

The Christmas lights went dark again during World War II, but they are switched back on in 1945.

"We see big articles about, you know, the war is over. People are traveling again, let’s get excited. And then we’ve seen it every year where Butte-Silver Bow puts up our intersection lights around town, so we still have that tradition continuing today," says Jaap.

The shapes and forms of the decorative holiday lights have changed many times over the years and the method for stringing up the lights has also changed; gone is the precarious 30-foot ladder, for instance.

"It’s changed a lot from, you know, that’s 90ish years ago that that photo was taken. So now we have ladder trucks and things people can use and not some 30-foot ladder in the middle of the road," says Jaap.

And the lights will shine on into January as Butte honors its Serbian community.

"I love that they’re kept up through Serbian Christmas and it’s kind of a fun way that Butte’s melting pot is seen too," says Jaap.