The People’s Tree
“We were not canceling Christmas. We were going to figure out a way to do it, one way or the other.”
The backstory & triumph of
the 2020 Capitol Christmas Tree
- 1964: A former Speaker of the House planted a LIVE Christmas tree on the lawn outside the Capitol – it only survived 4 Christmas seasons, but ignited a tradition!
- 1970: The U.S. Forest Service started providing the tree that comes from a different national forest every year.
- Criteria: 60-90 ft. tall, “good growth and density,” and “rich in color.” Viewed 360 degrees, it can have no bad sides!
Finding The Perfect Tree
- This year’s tree comes from Colorado.
- Usually chosen in person, this year’s selection process was described as “online dating” – with photos and video sent back and forth to find the perfect tree.
- The Engelmann spruce stands more than five stories high.
- Dozens of smaller “companion” trees are also sent to the U.S. Capitol for decoration and celebration.
“I just thought about all the peace and love and potential for respect, communication, goodwill toward men, Americans and the whole world… And so I came to give it my prayers.”
Colorado resident Lindi Mereness who came to pay her respects to the Colorado spruce that traveled cross-country, wrapped and lying on the bed of a truck, to Washington D.C. to become the Capitol Christmas Tree.
The National Park Service member who found this tree will plant a new one in its place; he’s also responsible for planting 90,000 new trees in Colorado next year. The Capitol Christmas tree will feature thousands of handmade ornaments from children in its native state – this is why it earned the nickname “the People’s Tree.”
The basics on the Capitol Hill Christmas Tree (and a list of past trees): https://www.aoc.gov/what-we-do/programs-ceremonies/capitol-christmas-tree
In 1964, House Speaker John W. McCormack suggested to J. George Stewart, Architect of the Capitol, that a Christmas tree be placed on the U.S. Capitol grounds. A live 24-foot Douglas fir was purchased for $700 from Buddies Nurseries of Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, and was planted on the West Front lawn. Each year through 1967 this tree was decorated and a tree-lighting ceremony was held.
Unfortunately, a combination of factors, including a severe wind storm in the spring of 1967 and root damage, caused the tree to die in 1968; it was removed in the same year. The 1968 Christmas tree was made from two white pines from Finksburg, Maryland, and was 30 feet tall; the 1969 tree was a 40-foot white pine from Westminster, Maryland. The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service has provided the trees since 1970.
A sweet read from the tree’s beginning to end: A Colorado Spruce’s Journey To Becoming The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree
Usually, someone from the Architect of the Capitol’s office flies out from Washington to review all the towering finalists in person — the nation’s national forests take turns providing the tree — but this year was different because of the pandemic.
It was more like online dating.
Photos and videos were exchanged profiling the finalists. And the final pick was made over video chat — a statuesque, 55-foot Engelmann spruce that the rangers called the Beaver Dam tree. It was located in rough terrain about an hour from Montrose, far from just about everything except other trees.
Capitol Christmas Tree criteria: READ HERE
Bechtol considers many criteria when selecting the Capitol Christmas Tree. The ideal tree is 60 to 90 feet tall. It must be healthy, have good growth and density, and be rich in color. The tree must be straight and perfectly conical in shape.
“It is positioned out in the open of the Capitol’s West Front lawn, visible from 360 degrees,” says Bechtol. “Unlike at home, you cannot hide the bad side of the tree in the corner of a room.”
Companion Trees Fact-check:
The rest will be distributed — along with about 70 regular-sized companion Christmas trees from Colorado — to congressional and federal offices. GOP Rep. Ken Buck’s office received one of the trees, as well as ornaments and a handmade tree skirt. https://www.cpr.org/2020/12/03/a-colorado-spruces-journey-to-becoming-the-u-s-capitol-christmas-tree/
Additionally, tree growers from Northwest Oregon donated 75 smaller companion trees to adorn government office buildings in the Nation’s Capital.
Another big difference is the ornaments. The White House’s National Christmas Tree has a series of handmade ornaments representing each state created by artists selected for the honor. However, the U.S. Capitol tree’s decorations, also all handmade, are created by hundreds of kids from the state hosting it, thus giving it the nickname the People’s Tree.
Perhaps the Christmas spirit will lead to a COVID-19 more agreement in Congress – Here’s a list of all the items they need to take care of before the end of the year.
by Jenna Lee,