’Tis the Season: Tree Is on Its Way

Posted November 14, 2008 at 5:41pm

Displaying a 78-foot tree on the Capitol’s West Front lawn is a feat that requires more than chopping it down and throwing on some tinsel.

This year’s Capitol Christmas Tree is more than halfway through a three-week journey through dozens of towns, strapped to a trailer for 3,000 miles of parades, music performances and festivals.

It will arrive at the Capitol on Nov. 24, only to face a team of workers who will spruce it up with replacement branches and bedeck it with thousands of homemade ornaments.

And after 144 years in Montana, the subalpine spruce will spend the last weeks of its existence on the West Front, covered in energy-efficient light-emitting diodes.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will light the tree for the first time at 5 p.m. Dec. 2, and it will remain lit from nightfall to 11 p.m. through Dec. 28.

“The arrival of the Capitol Christmas Tree is a beautiful holiday tradition,” Pelosi said in a statement. “This year, the people of Montana have the unique honor of sharing their tree and ornaments with all Americans. May their tree light the way for a joyous holiday season.”

The tradition has already energized thousands of people to hold celebrations and craft ornaments out of recycled material, said Nan Christianson, spokeswoman for Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest, the former home of this year’s tree.

Over the past few months, officials have received packages of ornaments from residents across the state. They’ve ranged from schoolchildren creating barbed-wire stars to senior citizens creating dream catchers from coat hangers and plastic.

“Every day, it was like Christmas all over again. Just unbelievable,” Christianson said, later adding: “It was really neat how ingenious folks were and the kind of talent that showed through.”

Now, Christianson and U.S. Forest Service officials are on the road, traveling through towns to showcase the tree.

U.S. Forest Service officials dedicate months to finding the perfect tree, slowly narrowing the list down as Christmas approaches. Being able to provide the Capitol Christmas Tree is a sought-after assignment because it allows states to display their culture and show their pride.

This year, the tree was cut down Nov. 1, after a ceremony in which a Salish Indian chief blessed it — and tried to calm any doubts from those who objected to the felling of a tree that harkened back to when Montana became a territory.

“He spread his arms wide, and he touched the tree, and he said, ‘Look at the crowd here … and the joy it has brought them,’” Christianson said. “He referred to it as the chosen one and talked about how this tree would want to be involved in that.”

On Nov. 4, U.S. Forest Service officials set off with the tree on the trip to Washington, D.C. — with a 2,000-mile side trip around Montana. The journey — plus a promotional campaign and related programs — will cost more than $350,000.