As mist hung in the air Wednesday, the Capitol Christmas tree was illuminated, officially kicking off the holiday season on Capitol Hill. “For the Alaskans here and for this Wisconsinite, welcome to what, to us, is like a nice night in July," Speaker Paul D. Ryan joked on the West Front before the tree was lit.
But he followed the quip with a somber moment, leading the crowd in a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting in San Bernadino, Calif., that had unfolded shortly before the tree lighting ceremony began.
"I hope [the tree] will be a reminder throughout this Christmas season that even in the darkest of times God is there," Ryan said.
The tree stands an impressive 74 feet in the air and was lit amid applause and cellphone pictures capturing the moment. The tree was also a point of pride for the Alaskan congressional delegation, as it's the first Capitol Christmas tree from the state.
"Close your eyes and feel the moisture on your cheeks. A little bit of cool. Imagine that the sound that you hear is the wind moving through the trees. Imagine you're in the Chugach National Forest in the heart of Alaska," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, encouraged the crowd gathered on the West Front. "When you look at the tree, the tree that has traveled 4,000 miles to grace this Capitol, grace this lawn, maybe, just maybe, you can get a sense of the majesty, the grandeur and the awe that is Alaska."
Murkowski's fellow Alaska Republicans joined her at the ceremony. Sen. Dan Sullivan read from fifth grader Anna DeVolld's essay about the tree, which won her the opportunity to light it alongside Ryan.
"Alaskan Christmas trees are special because they are a symbol of Alaskan pride,” DeVolld wrote. Sullivan remarked, "That’s exactly right."
But an Alaskan celebration wouldn't be complete without some remarks from longtime GOP Rep. Don Young.
"Thanks everyone, especially thank the tree," Young said. "I just came here when it was just planted and they keep trying to cut me down but they’re not going to do it.”
"When I see this tree I think of the beauty — and it may be hard for some of you knowing me that I have a kind thought in my heart," Young continued. "But a tree as pretty as this tree, you don’t get to see.”