By Kris Kitto and Katy Hopkins - 11/23/09 11:14 PM EST
On Monday, an 85-foot blue spruce from Arizona is scheduled to arrive at the Capitol’s West Front, continuing a tradition that began in 1964. Decorations will follow, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers will preside over a lighting ceremony on Dec. 8 at 5 p.m.
The tree’s origin
This is the first year the tree comes from Arizona, and the state is taking the honor seriously. It has set up a website — www.capitolchristmastree2009.org — with photos, information about the tree and even a feature tracking the tree’s trip from Arizona to Washington.
The tree, which is 125 years old, comes from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in the state’s White Mountains. The national forest stretches more than 2 million acres and is a source of pride in the state, according to its congressional representative, Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.).
“I grew up in the White Mountains, where this blue spruce has graced the skyline for 70 years,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “Like everyone in greater Arizona, I am so proud to share with the rest of the nation a small part of the beauty of this great district with the Capitol Christmas Tree.”
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who grew up in nearby Snowflake, Ariz., said of his state’s first Capitol Christmas Tree, “It’s about time.”
Every year, the U.S. Forest Service selects the forest where the tree comes from. Capitol Christmas Tree Program National Manager Beverly Carroll said the Forest Service takes into consideration geographic diversity and often selects forests based on milestones (a forest’s anniversary, for example, or a state’s centennial).
Carroll said the Forest Service also considers community involvement when selecting a tree because the federal government pays for very little of the tree’s transport and other costs. Instead, states raise money and find sponsors to ship the tree and the ornaments to Washington and cover other expenses. Forest Service Public Affairs Manager Jim Payne estimated that private funding and in-kind donations make up 90 percent of the tree’s costs.
How the tree was selected
The Capitol grounds superintendent works with the Forest Service every year to select the tree. Among the most important characteristics they look for are: (a) its branching habit, or ability to hold ornaments; (b) a full and symmetrical shape; and (c) a good, healthy color.
How the tree will arrive at the Capitol
The tree traveled to approximately 24 Arizona cities and towns before starting its journey to Washington. After its state tour, it was loaded on a double flatbed truck for a 10-day trip across the country to arrive at the Capitol. The tree has been part of a 12-vehicle motorcade, and it has been stored on its side in a custom-made box to prevent damage and preserve its shape. During its trip, it will have absorbed 65 gallons of water from a plastic bladder fitted at its base.
Who will decorate the tree?
Members of the Capitol grounds crew will decorate the tree.
Who made this year’s ornaments?
Schoolchildren throughout Arizona were asked to submit ornaments they made. In light of the theme “Arizona’s Gift,” students made ornaments out of everything from horseshoes to copper, one of the state’s main natural resources, and wild gourds found in the White Mountains. The Forest Service requested 5,000 ornaments but received approximately 7,000.
History of the Capitol Christmas Tree
This is the 47th year a Christmas tree will be placed in front of the Capitol, although the official title of the tree has been changed several times. A Capitol Christmas tree was first planted in 1963 under the suggestion of then-Speaker John W. McCormack (D-Mass.), and an official lighting ceremony was initiated a year later. Since 1967, trees have come from a different state each year, though many states have been repeat contributors. The tree was referred to as the Capitol Christmas Tree until 1999, when it was changed to the Capitol Holiday Tree to encompass more winter celebrations. The title stuck until 2005, when then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) requested the name revert back to “Christmas” tree to reflect the Christian holiday.
Environmentally friendly elements of the display
For the fifth year in a row, the tree will be strung with LED lights, which use little electricity and have long life spans. The truck that transported the tree used biodiesel alternative fuel. After the holidays, the tree will be used for mulch around the Capitol Complex.
Events involving the tree
Ayers will formally accept the tree on Monday, Nov. 30 at 10 a.m. on the West Front of the Capitol. The Capitol grounds crew will then unload and erect the tree on the same site.
Pelosi and Ayers will light the tree at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 8. The tree will be lit every day from nightfall until 11 p.m. until Jan. 1, 2010.
The 2010 Capitol Christmas Tree will come from Wyoming. Carroll said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) began lobbying for his state to contribute a tree in 2007 when he noticed the fanfare surrounding that year’s Capitol Christmas Tree from Vermont.