No season generates more enthusiasm, a heightened sense of good will, deeper traditions, and economic benefits than the annual Christmas Season. And so it is only appropriate that our leaders would develop a way to focus the nation’s attention, ever so briefly, on a single and most beautiful symbol of the season – the Capitol Christmas Tree. Early in December each year, the Speaker of the House hosts a lighting ceremony on the lawn of the United States Capitol Building and with a simple flip of a switch, powers the 10,000 lights that illuminate the tree. Hundreds of people who are fortunate enough to be in D.C. attend the lighting ceremony and many thousands around the world watch the ceremony on television. Throughout the weeks that follow, thousands more will find their way to the Capitol to take in the sight of “the People’s Tree”. Although thousands take great comfort and enjoyment from the tree, few give thought to where it comes from.
Here’s “the rest of the story”. Speaker of the House of Representatives John W. McCormack (D-MA) began the tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree in 1964. The first tree was a live Douglas-fir purchased for $700 from Buddies Nursery in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania. It was lighted by Senate President Pro Tempore Carl Hayden (D-AZ) on December 18, 1964. The original tree survived through the 1967 celebration by which time wind and root damage had taken its toll. In both 1968 and 1969, cut trees were assembled by combining a pair of eastern white pine trees but this proved cumbersome and ultimately unsatisfactory. Early in 1970, the Capitol Architect approached the USDA Forest Service for assistance. Since 1970, it has become an honor for one of the National Forests to be asked to provide the Capitol Tree. The appointed National Forest, in turn, engages help from diverse partners throughout its respective State. The opportunity to provide the Capitol Christmas Tree – “the People’s Tree” – becomes a state-wide celebration and civic event, leaving a lasting impression on all who are fortunate enough to be involved.
1972 Cherokee NF in Tennessee (R-8) 50 feet Balsam fir from Tennessee National Forest, Pennsylvania
1974 Pisgah NF in North Carolina (R-8) 41 feet Fraser fir from Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina
1975 Ottawa NF in Michigan (R-9) 41 feet Balsam fir from Ottawa National Forest, Michigan
1976 Monongahela NF in West Virginia “Bi-Centennial Tree” (R-9) 41 feet Red spruce from Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
1977 Nemadji State Forest in Minnesota 52 feet White spruce
1984 Superior National Forest in Minnesota (R-9) 58 feet White spruce
1991 Carson NF in New Mexico (“National Forest Centennial Tree”) (R-3) 60 feet Blue spruce (live) from Carson National Forest, New Mexico
1995 Plumas NF in California (R-5) 60 feet Douglas fir from Plumas National Forest, California
1996 Wasatch-Cache NF in Utah (R-4) 75 feet Engelmann spruce. I have also seen accounts stating this tree was from the Manti-LaSal National Forest, Utah
1997 Black Hills NF in South Dakota (R-2) 63 feet Black Hills spruce
1998 Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina (R-8) 50 feet Fraser fir
1999 North Central Station/Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin (R-9) “Millennium Tree”70 feet White spruce (First Capitol Holiday tree)
Here are a few more facts you may not know:
- The Forest Service, working with a team of state-based partners, selects 6 – 8 candidate trees for the Capitol Architect’s consideration, but it is the Capitol Architect who makes the final selection.
- His or she considers -
- the shape and fullness of the tree, viewed from all sides. -
- the height of the tree, preferring one that is between 60 and 85 feet tall. -
- the color of the tree, with foliage that is richly colored and appropriate for the species. -
- the species’ characteristics of needle retention and pliability of branches.
- Of course those selecting the candidate trees also need to consider access to the tree for ease of cutting, loading and transporting out of the woods.
How the lead National Forest is selected.
- whether there is a significant historical event or theme affiliated with the Forest or State, such as the celebration of a centennial. -
- the location of the National Forest, preferring to secure a tree from a different area of the country each year. -
- the confidence expressed by the Forest in being able to generate contributions to help fund the project.
So really, what’s involved?
- The Tree… Locating the 60 foot, near-perfect Capitol Christmas Tree -
- Companion Trees… Securing donations of 60-70 trees that range in size from 6 feet – 25 feet, for a variety of government offices throughout D.C. -
- Lights and Ornaments… Soliciting and collecting 4000 – 5000 handmade ornaments that are made to specific criteria, ensuring they will hold up in wintery weather and be visible for distances up to 70 feet. School children, 4-H clubs, scout troops and other youth organizations are often excited to be asked to contribute handmade ornaments. Almost 10,000 low energy (LED) and regular lights, provided by the Capitol Architect, are added to illuminate the tree throughout the holiday season. -
- Implementing publicity and marketing strategies that engage a wide variety of partners and sponsors across the state, which in turn, provide the funds and the enthusiasm which are needed to ensure the project’s success. -
- Establishing a partnership with an organization that can solicit and accept donations and serve as the fiscal agent for the project. Past years’ efforts have ranged from $100,000 to nearly $1,000,000 in value with much of the value attributed to in-kind contributions. Strong support from the State and local communities means that there is minimal cost to taxpayers. -
- Providing security for the Capitol Tree throughout its journey from the woods to the Capitol lawn. -
- Hosting community celebrations, fund-raisers and cutting ceremonies in-State, and receptions in D.C., in honor of the Tree’s arrival. -
- Coordinating transportation of people, ornaments, and trees from the host State to delivery in D.C.
Logistics of transporting and setting up The Tree.
Once the tree is cut, it is loaded onto a flatbed truck equipped with a special platform for protecting the tree during transport.
- The long journey to the nation’s capitol begins with a cutting ceremony, then the tree is escorted to many cities and communities in the State, and finally driven across the country.
- Once the tree arrives in Washington, DC, it is handed over to the Capitol Architect.
- The Capitol Landscape crew then places the tree in a ready-made 5-foot deep hole.
- It generally takes 7 to 10 days for workers to secure the tree in place, make any cosmetic changes needed with extra branches, string the lights and place the thousands of handmade ornaments on the branches of the tree before the big lighting ceremony. -
- The Forest Service is responsible for distributing the many companion trees to designated offices throughout the D.C. area, including at least one to the Chief’s Office, and one to the USDA Building.
- Prior to the tree lighting ceremony in early December, the Chief of the Forest Service hosts an afternoon awards reception at the USDA headquarters next to the National Mall.
- The Speaker of the House holds an elaborate Tree Lighting Ceremony on the west lawn of the Capitol, assisted by the Capitol Architect and the State’s Congressional Members.
- Partnership members, key sponsors, and community leaders and often the Governor come to Washington to attend the celebration.
- These events are followed by an evening reception hosted by the State’s Congressional Officials.
- The tree remains lighted throughout the holiday season and after the tree is removed, it is mulched and used around all of the congressional offices, and ornaments are distributed to local non-profits.
The General Circle of the process:
- Private, State & Forest Service Partnerships
- Providing 4000-5000 weather-proof Handmade Ornaments
- Hosting Celebrations & Receptions in-State and in D.C.
- Handling complex Shipping Logistics
- Providing 60- 70, 6′-25′ tall Companion Trees
- Coordinating thousands of Volunteers’ and Sponsors’ Efforts
- Providing a near-perfect 60+ foot tall Capitol Christmas Tree
The above information was retreved fromt the capitolchristmastree2007.org. The site has already been removed so we are happy we could preserve this short piece of information from it. CapitolChristmasTree.org