From goofy skits to stately trees, Hill's holiday traditions bring cheer

Last week’s elections had half of Capitol Hill cheering, but the deck-the-halls spirit of the coming holiday season is likely to bring a little bit of holiday cheer.

The Hill boasts many holiday traditions, some decades old and others more recent, that Hill denizens have come to look forward to.

The Hill community at times can feel like an eccentric family, filled with kooky characters and familiar rituals.  “The holiday season is the best time on the Hill,” says Anthony Wallis, a research assistant in the House Historian’s office. “There’s something in the air.”

The Capitol Christmas Tree is one of the best-known traditions on the Hill. Wallis said the custom of selecting and lighting a national tree started in 1964. Every year, the delegation from the tree’s home state solicits homemade ornaments from the state’s schoolchildren.

This year, the national tree is a 65-foot Pacific fir from the Olympic National Forest in Washington state.  Workers will decorate the tree (using cherry pickers to reach the highest branches) with 10,000 lights and 3,000 ornaments crafted by Washington-state schoolchildren.

The tree-lighting ceremony, in which the Speaker of the House flips the switch to light the tree for the season, is slated this year for Dec. 6.  The lighting ceremony is traditionally followed by parties around the Hill, including a hot-ticket reception in the House Speaker’s office and a gathering sponsored by the U.S. Capitol Historical Society featuring hot cocoa and sweets for society members and members of Congress.

Though it might capture the most attention, the national tree is hardly the only annual ritual that Hill staffers eagerly await.  Many individual members’ offices have developed their own traditions to celebrate the season. One of the most anticipated of those is the annual Christmas skit that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) performs at his Hill Christmas party.

Kennedy usually gathers current and former staffers, along with friends, journalists, and others, in a committee room for holiday festivities.  Aside from the usual canap