Heard on the Hill

The Capitol Has Its Christmas Tree

84-foot-tall spruce makes the trip from Idaho

Workers from the Architect of the Capitol and the U.S. Forest Service unload the Capitol Christmas tree from Payette National Forest in Idaho on the West Front of the Capitol on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Another tree has made the journey to grace the lawn of the United States Capitol. The traditional Capitol Christmas tree, all the way from the Payette National Forest in Idaho, has arrived.

Escorted by Capitol Police, the 84-foot-tall, 84-year-old Engelmann spruce rode on a big red truck labeled “From tree to shining tree.”

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“I’d like to thank, first, the Idaho delegation for this terrific support in securing this beautiful tree,” Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers said upon accepting the tree at a news conference in front of the West Lawn, where the tree will stand.

The tree was harvested on Nov. 2, and made stops in communities along its 2,500-mile route from Idaho to Washington, D.C.

“Team members engaged in random acts of kindness along the trip … in an effort to #payitforward,” Ayers said.

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There were “plenty of good candidates for the Capitol Christmas tree” in the Payette National Forest, Ayers said. This year’s tree was chosen for its ability to hold ornaments, shape and color.

The tree will be lit at a public ceremony on Dec. 6 with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and the Idaho delegation.

Thousands of LED lights and 6,000 ornaments made by children in Idaho, who used 20 pounds of glitter, will hang on the tree, said Keith Lannom, the Payette National Forest supervisor.

The ornaments represent things relevant to Idaho, including salmon and pine cones.

Lannom said the tree grew along a ski trail, the same one on which a few Olympians got their start.

While on its ride from Idaho, people would spot it along the way and take photographs or wave, he said.

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“Let me tell you, people love the Capitol Christmas tree,” Lannom said.

Just getting the tree off the truck takes Capitol workers about half an hour, AOC Capitol Grounds superintendent Theodore R. Bechtol said as gallons of water under the tree were dumped out behind him.

It will take all day to get it up and stabilized and all the electrical work will take place over the week.

The tradition of a Capitol Christmas Tree was started in 1964 by House Speaker John W. McCormack of Massachusetts, who placed a live tree on the Capitol lawn. McCormack’s tree lived for three years.

In 1970, the AOC decided to ask the Forest Service to provide a Christmas tree each year. That year’s choice was a Norway spruce from Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.

Every year since then, a different national forest has been chosen to provide the tree.

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Last year’s tree was a Lutz spruce from the Chugach National Forest in Alaska. In 2014, the tree was a White spruce from the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota.

The Forest Service also works with states to provide companion trees, which are much smaller, to go inside offices in the Capitol.

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