Public invited to Rice Park holiday tree lighting (and Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Kick-Off) on Friday

It was Election Day, but it looked more like Christmas at Rice Park in downtown St. Paul on Tuesday.

Bystanders craned their necks upward to watch a crew assemble a 40-foot artificial holiday tree for a lighting ceremony on Friday.

It’s long been a tradition to light up the real trees of St. Paul’s historic park to celebrate the holidays and illuminate our winter, but this will only be the second year that the Salvation Army’s “Tree of Lights” will be the sparkly focal point in Rice Park.

The event also represents the Red Kettle Kick-Off for the organization, a fund-raising effort involving the pealing of bells at kettles across the Twin Cities and beyond.

But first, the tree must be assembled.

“This is a 3-day process,” said Angel Fields Mitchell, divisional director of marketing for the Salvation Army Northern Division, from Rice Park on Tuesday. “Tomorrow, we will decorate the tree.”

The ceremony

Hundreds of people were on hand as the Salvation Army “Tree of Lights” and Red Kettle Campaign Kick-Off began in Rice Park in downtown St. Paul on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

The tree-lighting ceremony at Rice Park will begin promptly at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.

Although the Hallmark Channel began its “Countdown to Christmas” several days before Halloween, isn’t it a bit early for a real-life holiday tree lighting?

It is more common to wait until after Thanksgiving or into early December for official lightings. For example, a few blocks away in Lowertown, the Union Depot will host its annual Holiday Tree Lighting and Movie Night on Saturday, Dec. 2. That is also the date that Stillwater will light up a tree as part of the Twinkle Party.

The Friends of Mears Park, however, will hold its holiday lighting ceremony at the Lowertown locale on Saturday, Nov. 18.

In the glow-up of Rice Park — both this year and last — the early timing is due to the Salvation Army’s holiday schedule.

“Rice Park had gone without a tree for several years, so last year we collaborated with the St. Paul Downtown Alliance to put up our tree in Rice Park,” Dan Furry, a Salvation Army spokesperson. “The event coincides with the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle kick-off, so that is why it is generally held the second weekend in November.”

Turnout at the 2022 holiday tree lighting — held on Nov. 12 in Rice Park — was strong, perhaps because it had been awhile since there was a holiday tree situated in this picturesque square of a park located in the shadow of the gingerbread-castle-like Landmark Center.

“We had a great event,” Furry says.

The park and its tree was so pretty that it was even featured on the Hallmark Channel’s live cam on its website.

Related Articles

Local News |

Minnesota Supreme Court dismisses ‘insurrection clause’ challenge and allows Trump on primary ballot

Local News |

Veterans to be honored at official Minnesota Veterans Day program

Local News |

South St. Paul Library to close Dec. 1 ahead of new Kaposia Library opening

Local News |

2,600 submissions for new Minnesota state flag/seal design to be unveiled this week

Local News |

Catholic group that wanted Wilder Forest now plans to purchase Wisconsin resort

This year’s event will include performances by the St. Paul Police Band Drumline, “The Voice” finalist Kat Perkins and Billboard chart-topping singer Jovonta Patton, as well as an appearance by former Vikings star and NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter. Santa and Mrs. Claus will also be on hand.

During the ceremony, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter will invite children in the audience onto the stage to help him throw the switch and light the holiday tree. The other trees in the park (and more) will light up at the same time.

New this year is a pyrotechnics program that will accompany the lighting of the trees. Santa’s mailbox will be on site, and free cookies and hot chocolate will also be served by the Salvation Army’s disaster services canteens.

The partnerships

While the Salvation Army is producing Friday’s tree-lighting event, the St. Paul Downtown Alliance is a lead partner with St. Paul in keeping downtown sparkly all winter long (most famously, that includes the trees of Rice Park). The Alliance also works with Visit St. Paul to promote the sparkle of “Saint Paulidays” at

When the Salvation Army first approached the city’s parks department, and then the Alliance, with the idea to add to downtown’s decorations with a special tree, it seemed like a festive idea, even if it had been awhile since Rice Park itself had hosted a holiday tree.

“The history of having a tree in Rice Park is there,” says Emma Burns, director of operations for the Alliance. “The park is designed to hold a tree, with special engineering in place on the south side.”

When the switch is flipped on Friday, it will actually turn on a variety of twinkly lights in downtown, from the trees of Rice Park and beyond — 100,000 in total.

While the holiday tree will be disassembled in January, the other trees in Rice Park — and other winter lighting elements — stay aglow through with the help of another partner, Xcel Energy.

The bulbs shine past even the St. Paul Winter Carnival, which wraps up in early Feburary.

“The lights usually stay on through the boys hockey tournament in March,” Burns says.

The tree

The tree’s assembly began on Tuesday and will continue with finishing touches on Thursday.

The artificial tree, purchased by the Salvation Army in 2022 with the help of private donors, resembles a Fraser fir and features 25,000 lights.

Workers with metroConnections assemble the 40-foot tall holiday tree with 25,000 lights in Rice Park in St. Paul on Tuesday, Nov., 7, 2023. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

“Our hope is that the annual ‘Tree of Lights’ event will continue to build a holiday tradition here in the Twin Cities, much like the red kettle, and affirm our commitment to celebrating the season of peace, hope and good will,” said Lt. Colonel Randall Polsley, Salvation Army Northern Division commander, in a statement.

While the public is accustomed to hearing about the search for live trees to cut down to serve as holiday trees — that includes the annual donated tree over at Union Depot in Lowertown — artificial trees are in demand as well.

In fact, as Fields Mitchell stood in Rice Park on Tuesday, watching workers in harnesses attach branches to the tree’s metal base, she declined to reveal the name of the company that sells the tree.

“I’ve got to tell you, it’s a hot commodity,” Fields Mitchell says of the tree.

Fields Mitchell did reveal that there are only “five or six” companies that sell large-scale artificial trees suitable for this kind of event, or for commercial settings such as department stores or shopping malls, and that the artificial trees are popular for both the cost savings and sustainability.

Just like installing a live tree, though, an artificial tree of such stature requires special equipment such as articulating boom lifts, which the crew from metroConnections had on hand on Tuesday as they scaled the tree.

“It’s like putting together a skyscraper of Christmas trees,” said David Everett, senior sales manager and designer at the event planning company.

But this “skyscraper” also shared some similarities with a Christmas tree in a family home, with labeled cardboard boxes for tree parts (including “top”) and branches spread out in little piles on the ground, waiting to assemble.

The kettles

The lighting of the Salvation Army’s tree marks the start of bell-ringing season, when people ring bells as they stand by red kettles at store entrances and street corners to collect funds for the Salvation Army’s feeding and housing programs in the Twin Cities.

The red kettles are the cornerstone of the Salvation Army’s Christmas fundraising campaign, which has a goal of raising $11.3 million in the Twin Cities by Dec. 31. Funds raised during the Christmas season support food and shelter programs throughout the year.

This year’s Red Kettle campaign will be kicked off by Col. Polsley, with the help of a $25,000 match provided by Cub stores. As a result of the match, any gift made at Twin Cities kettles or online from Friday through Sunday will help twice as many people.

It’s especially needed right now: With rising prices for food, gas and utilities, the Salvation Army reports that demand for assistance remains historically high heading into the holidays.

In addition to dropping coins or bills into kettles, people can gather around the holiday tree at Rice Park to check out interactive charitable features, such as scanning a QR code that will lead users to gift ideas they can purchase through the Salvation Army’s website for a child or family in need.

“It’s very simple and easy and digitized,” Furry says.

There are also fun photo ops to try out around the tree, including posing in a carriage or inside a snow globe.

For getting involved beyond Friday, the Salvation Army reports that there are still thousands of bell-ringer shifts needing to be filled; register at

Rice Park Holiday Tree Lighting

When: 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 10
Where: Rice Park, 109 W. 4th St., downtown St. Paul
What: A holiday tree lighting ceremony for the Salvation Army’s “Tree of Lights” — as well as the lighting of the park’s other trees and more. St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter will be on hand, as well as local celebrities and Santa Claus. Free hot chocolate and cookies will be served.
Admission: Free
Parking: Due to construction in downtown St. Paul, plan for extra travel time. Note: Free parking for the first 200 vehicles will be provided in the Lawson Ramp at 11 5th St. W. (tickets must be validated at the tent in Rice Park).
Info: Find more holiday events at

Related Articles

Local News |

Woodbury winter coat drive expands to include 13 drop-off locations

Local News |

Free coffee and resources for veterans at Mall of America event

Local News |

Bryce Borca’s parents say son’s disappearance in Eagan has been ‘hardest year of our lives’

Local News |

It’s been a century of learning and friendship for the Friday Study Club in Stillwater

Local News |

Historic Justus Ramsey House finds new home at Minnesota Transportation Museum

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous post Emerson Electric Co. (NYSE:EMR) Shares Purchased by FAS Wealth Partners Inc.
Next post Ticker: Beyond Meat revenue falls as rising demand in Europe can’t overcome plummeting US sales