For many St. Louisans, the big red bow and ribbon going up around the James S. McDonnell Planetarium symbolizes the official start of the holiday season.

What many people don’t know about this tradition is that it actually began as a prank. On December 17, 1966, 15 to 20 students from the Washington University in St. Louis School of Architecture climbed onto the Planetarium’s curved roof and placed a ribbon and bow that stretched around the building.

A sign tied on a handrail was also left with the words “Merry Christmas St. Louis. Washington University School of Architecture.”

The bow received such a positive reaction from the community that the bow now appears each year as a holiday tradition.

Photo credit: 1966 Planetarium Bow – St. Louis Post-Dispatch Archives. Aerial photos – stl_from_above.

Putting up the bow and ribbon each year

The red bow and ribbon has gone up every year, except one year for renovations, since the prank in 1966. The current ribbon is four-to-five-feet with a bow about 20 feet wide and takes about four to five hours to put up.

The bow and ribbon goes up just before Thanksgiving and is removed around the first or second week of January, depending on the weather.

See a time-lapse video below of how the bow and ribbon are installed each year.