Capitol Christmas Tree Arrives From Arizona Today

Posted November 25, 2009 at 3:12pm

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In other words, the big moment has come — the Capitol Christmas Tree arrives in the District today, signifying the beginning of the holiday season for folks in and around Capitol Hill.

Known as “Arizona’s Gift from the Grand Canyon State,— the tree has made its way across the country, stopping along the way in cities such as Amarillo, Texas, and Branson, Mo., so folks could catch a glimpse of the 85-foot blue spruce.

The journey began at the Apache and Sitgreaves national forests in Arizona’s White Mountain region. This is the first time Arizona has provided “the people’s tree,— which became the deciding factor when the National Forest Service was culling nomination forms and deciding which state would get the honor this year.

According to Beverly Carroll, national manager of the Capitol Christmas Tree Program for the Forest Service, the organization generally tries to choose a site that has a particular anniversary or milestone that coincides with providing the tree. However, the group also tries to give all states a fair opportunity to be involved, so Apache-Sitgreaves was the lucky winner as the first representative from Arizona.

Previous trees have hailed from all over the country, from California, Tennessee, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, to name a few.

The tree will be lit by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at a ceremony on Dec. 8. Acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers will host the event. The ceremony will be the same as in past years, Ayers said, with members of the Arizona Congressional delegation on hand to help celebrate the moment. Pelosi will also continue the tradition of having a child help her light the tree, according to Ayers. Children from all over the state craft handmade ornaments to decorate the tree, and a winner is chosen from among those who participate.

Although there aren’t likely to be any surprises or new additions to the traditional event, Ayers is happy with the way it is.

“It’s a wonderful tradition that’s been kept up for many, many years,— he said.

“It really seems like D.C. kind of dims its lights or something. It’s kind of eerie,— Carroll said of the moments before the ceremony. “Then you have this big, beautiful tree. At 5:30, it’s like that magical time.—

Five years ago, the Architect’s office decided to begin using LED lights on the tree. These are low-energy, environmentally friendly lights, and Ayers said it is the one aspect of the ceremony in which his office can “show leadership in environmental conservation.—

The Architect isn’t the only office making strides in that direction, however. Ayers said the truck carrying the tree from Arizona to Washington runs on biodiesel fuel. And the ornament being presented by the Capitol Historical Society is recycled. “West Front and Tree— is a painted relief of a Christmas tree at the West Front of the Capitol, and it is made of marble taken from the steps that were removed from the East Front in 1995, according to Diana Wailes, vice president of merchandising for the society. The ornament has even drawn the attention of holiday personality Willard Scott, who will do a segment on the decorative piece for NBC’s “Today Show.—

Though the tree has already brought joy to many at multiple stops on its way to Washington, perhaps the most cheerful thing about it is the price tag. All costs involved with purchasing and transporting the tree are covered by donations, not by taxpayer dollars, according to Carroll. Appeals are made to businesses within the state to help bring the tree to Washington.

That will make it all the more enjoyable for the visitors who come to see the tree during the next month.

“It’s a very unique, special time of year for everyone,— Carroll said.