All About Tacoma's Historic and Fun Christmas Tree Lighting

Family Fun at the Broadway Center

Tacoma Christmas Tree

Michael Knowles

Tacoma’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at 9th and Broadway—in the heart of T-Town’s Theatre District—is one of the South Sound’s biggest and best holiday kick-off events. The event starts with a sing-a-long or classic movie at the Pantages Theatre. In recent years, the show has been “Grease,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” or “The Sound of Music.” The show is always family friendly.


The event takes place in November. The afternoon starts with a show, typically a fanciful, wintery cirque show. Ticket prices are similarly family friendly. The tree lighting starts after the show. This part of the night is free, and anyone is welcome to attend, whether or not he or she went to the preceding show. Along with the tree, attendees can also expect carols and photos with Santa.

What Makes Tacoma's Tree Unique

After a show at the Broadway Center each year, the Pantages lobby welcomes theatre-goers and community members alike for the free holiday tree lighting. Before the lights go on, there are plenty of carols, photos with Santa, and indoor fun. And then—the lights go on! Tacoma’s Christmas tree is located just outside the theatre at 9th and Broadway. Usually, the tree is about 60 feet tall, and it comes straight from Joint Base Lewis McChord nearby.

You might think Tacoma’s holiday tree lighting is just one more tree lighting. There are several in Western Washington, after all. But this one is not only a great family event for the holiday season but also one of the region’s most historical happenings. You might not guess it, but Tacoma has held a Christmas tree lighting ceremony since 1919!

Today, the trees go up at 9th and Broadway in Tacoma’s Theatre District, where they have gone up since 1945. Even farther back than that, Tacoma held its tree lighting ceremony at Wright Park. No matter what has gone on in American history—the Great Depression, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, energy crises, recessions—the tree lighting ceremony has gone on.

According to a News Tribune article from 1945, previous to WWII, electricity was cheap and Tacoma’s residents went all out by decorating trees in their yards. There even used to be tree contests, pitting Tacoma residents against one another to see whose yard could be the biggest and brightest. Tour buses brought Christmas sightseers around to see the best homes. During WWII, with the Northwest within range of Japanese bombs, the city lost its taste for brightly lit beacons. The tree contests died out and the large Christmas tree downtown got significantly dimmer.

Today, the trees tend to be around 50 to 60 feet high, but in the past, trees were more than 100 feet tall. After WWII and into the 1960s, Tacoma was often in the running for tallest tree in the nation. In 1954, Tacoma even scored a mention on the Ed Sullivan Show as having possibly the nation’s tallest tree at more than 100 feet tall! Ten feet of the tree always goes in the ground to make sure the tree doesn’t fall over, but still—a 100-foot-tall tree is an accomplishment. Even today, the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree, perhaps the most famous Christmas tree on the planet, typically tops out around 90 feet.

The trees and ceremonies have faced other challenges over the decades. For a long time, up until even the mid-2000s, there was a parade. Santa arrived at the end of the parade and threw the switch to light the tree, but the parades lost attendance until finally they stopped altogether in 2005.

In 2010, Tacoma’s Christmas tree went green with a low-energy lighting system.

The tree ceremony has survived through when downtown was defunct, and today shines in a revived and popular Theatre District. Count on Tacoma’s holiday tree lighting ceremony pushing into the future, providing a beacon in Tacoma’s downtown core.

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