The Capitol Christmas Tree

The Capitol Christmas Tree

On this bike ride I stopped by to see the Capitol Christmas Tree, also known as “The People’s Tree,” which is located on the West Lawn on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building (MAP).  The tree was officially unveiled and lit by Speaker of the House John Boehner during a ceremony earlier this month.

The regular practice of displaying a Christmas tree on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building is relatively recent. Correspondence from 1919 in the records of the Architect of the Capitol indicates that a Christmas tree was purchased that year. However, it was not until 1964 that a definite procedure was initiated and a tree-lighting ceremony established, and the Capitol Christmas Tree became an annual holiday tradition.

In 1964, Speaker of the House John William McCormack suggested to J. George Stewart, the Architect of the Capitol, that a Christmas tree be placed on the Capitol Grounds. That year a live 24-foot Douglas fir was purchased for $700 from Buddies Nursery in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, and planted on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Then each year through 1967 the tree was decorated and a tree-lighting ceremony was held. Unfortunately, a combination of factors, including a severe wind storm in the spring of 1967 and root damage, caused the tree to die in 1968. It was removed that same year.

The Forest Service, part of the United States Department of Agriculture, has provided the trees since 1969. The annual tradition has become an honor for one national forest, which then works with partners throughout the state where the tree will be harvested.

This year, the Forest Service partnered with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Choose Outdoors, Inc., to harvest this year’s tree from the Chippewa National Forest in Cass Lake, Minnesota. It travelled over 3,700 miles on its way to D.C., passing through and stopping to visit 30 different communities across the country before arriving at the Capitol Building just before Thanksgiving. It is a White Spruce, and at 88 feet it tied for being the second-tallest tree ever used at the Capitol (behind 1989’s tree which was a foot taller, and tied with last year’s tree). It is also taller than either the National Christmas Tree in front of the White House, or the famous Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City. The Capitol Christmas Tree is decorated with thousands of LED lights, as well as thousands of ornaments, handcrafted by children and others from numerous Minnesota communities as a gift from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”

The Capitol Christmas Tree should not to be confused with The National Christmas Tree, which is near the White House and lighted every year by the president and first lady. The Speaker of the House officially lights the The People’s Tree, which remains lit from dusk until 11 p.m. each evening through January 1, 2015.

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