Christmas lights at the National Western Stock Show Grounds

Christmas Light Tradition

In Media, News by Karen Woods

Colorado natives will tell ya’, it’s okay to leave your holiday light up through January.

Do you consider yourself a Colorado native?  If so, you must know about the longstanding tradition between holiday lights and the National Western Stock Show!  If you are new to Colorado, listen up.  You’re going to want to jump on this Colorado Cowtown bandwagon.  

So, what is a tradition? The definition reads; a long-established custom or belief that has been passed on from one generation to another.  

There are no greater traditions then those endeared by families and friends during the holiday season as well as those imbedded in our state surrounding the National Western Stock Show.  

Talk about an age-old tradition.  The National Western Stock Show has been a Denver institution since 1906. For 16 days every January, it’s the fabric of our state and a celebration of our western roots.  

Though some of the details are lost in time, articles and photographs suggest the custom of keeping Christmas lights on through the end of the Stock Show dates back to the 1920s when some of the first lights and Christmas decorations were hung outside the state capital and the Denver City and County buildings.  One article read, “The lights remained shining, on and off, through the duration of the National Western Stock Show.”

There are references from 1945 when city leadership encouraging Denverite’s to continue the tradition of leaving up their Christmas lights to welcome visitors and to keep the city looking festive for everyone coming to town to attend the annual event.

The city-wide tradition is explained in an article in the Steamboat Pilot from 1955 citing the practice of keeping the lights on at the City and County building so Stock Show visitors could take in the festive display. 

An excerpt from the articles reads;

Stock Show Visitors Will See Christmas Lighting in Denver

Denver Christmas lighting will be on for Stock Show visitors. For 12 years Denver has been keeping the Christmas display on for National Western Stock Show week so that thousands of visitors from throughout the nation can view the famous scene in the civic center. The only change made which differs from the regular Christmas display is the playing of Western music rather than carols over the loudspeaker system. So famous Is the civic center display that convention trains have been stopped so that those aboard could view it. Special requests that the lighting is turned on have been made by airlines for persons on chartered planes. Many homes, industrial, and in situational lighting and window displays also will remain in place and turned on nightly; to make a trip around town a thrilling feature for those in Denver for the Stock Show. Among these will be the outstanding display at Spears Chiropractic hospital at East Ninth Avenue and Ivy, last year’s institutional first place winner in the Christmas lighting competition.

The article stated city leaders wanted to keep the lights up to welcome the tens of thousands of people who flocked to the stock show. It describes shuttle buses that brought stock show visitors to see the “thrilling” lights and, probably just as important, “other Denver attractions.” The Pilot article noted the city changed the music playing through loudspeakers from Christmas carols to country-western. Stock show officials even encouraged visitors to attend matinee events so they could take the tour of the lights in the evening.

What began as a Denver tradition has spread across Colorado.  Each year, the celebrated Castle Rock Star shines bright over the town of Castle Rock and I25 corridor from Thanksgiving through the end of the National Western Stock Show each and every year.   

For 75 years the National Western Stock Show’s Grand Champion Steer has been displayed under the Christmas lights and décor in the lobby of the famous Brown Palace Hotel

So, let’s keep this annual Colorado tradition shining bright, especially while our beloved Stock Show sits dark for one year.  Keep your holiday lights shining through January 24th, 2021 in support of the National Western Stock Show!

 “As long as we have people being born and raised in Denver who enjoy the holidays with their families and who keep those lights burning into the end of January, we’re always going to have people who honor that and remember our Cowtown past.” 

You can do your part, too. When your Christmas lights go up is up to you. Denver won’t judge you if you are a day after Thanksgiving or Dec. 1 person. It only matters when your lights come down — keep ‘em lit through the end of the National Western Stock Show.