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The Capitol Christmas Tree 2013

Updated on December 9, 2013

The Peoples Christmas Tree

One of the most interesting national holiday traditions in the United States is the Capitol Christmas Tree. Although the tradition of lighting a Christmas tree in front of the Capitol building goes back to 1963, the current tradtion of selecting and cutting a tree from one of the country's national forests was started in 1970.

It can be a bit confusing because there are so many Christmas trees displayed in Washington, DC to celebrate the holidays. Another tree is the National Christmas Tree, a live tree that the president lights and then there is the official White House Christmas Tree and numerous others inside and around government buildings. But the Capitol Christmas Tree is truly the "peoples" Christmas Tree. It is a tree cut from a national forest that belongs to the people, the cost of transporting is paid from donations and it is decorated with handmade ornaments from residents of the state where the tree was harvested.

As the tree makes its journey to Washington, DC it stops at communities along the way to give people around the country a chance to see it before it arrives at its destination on about Thanksgiving Day. The tree is set up on the front lawn of the US Capitol and the tree lighting ceremony is usually held sometime during the first week of December. The lights are turned on for the first time by the current Speaker of the House of Representatives. This year the lights on the tree were lit by Speaker John Boehner on December 3rd at 5pm (eastern time).

I became interested in learning about the Capitol Christmas Tree when a forest from my home state was asked to supply the tree in 2013. It was a memorable experience to go see the tree and I enjoyed following the news about its journey across the country to Washington, DC.

(Photo Credit 2009 Capital Christmas Tree: US Forest Service photo by Keith Riggs - Public Domain)

Some Photos and and Posters of Previous Capital Christmas Trees - Christmas in Washington, DC

There are posters of some of the beautiful trees from previous years.

Photography Poster - Christmas tree at the U.S. Capitol Washington D.C. 24 X 21
Photography Poster - Christmas tree at the U.S. Capitol Washington D.C. 24 X 21

A poster with a beautiful photo of one of the Capitol Christmas Trees.

 
US Capitol and Christmas Tree Photographic Poster Print by Walter Bibikow, 18x24
US Capitol and Christmas Tree Photographic Poster Print by Walter Bibikow, 18x24

Another photo of a Capitol Christmas Tree with a view across the reflecting pond.

 

How is the Capitol Christmas Tree Selected? - So many trees - how to choose one?

Capitol Christmas Tree 2013
Capitol Christmas Tree 2013

Each year a specific National Forest is given the honor of supplying the Capitol Christmas Tree.The forest service employees and the people who visit the forest are given the task of nominating what they believe to be the most beautiful tree in the forest. In 2013 the Colville National Forest in northeastern Washington State was the forest chosen to supply the tree. Over 30 trees were nominated and each tree was evaluated to see if it met the requirements for fullness, branch symmetry, height and the site accessibility. A forestry technician narrowed the list down to ten trees that met the requirements and then the grounds superintendent of the U.S.Capitol came to the Colville National Forest to see all ten of the trees and make the final selection. The tree chosen was the 80+ year old 88 foot tall Engelmann Spruce (picea Engelmannii) in the above photo. It was located in the Newport-Sullivan Lake Ranger District of the Colville National Forest in Pend Oreille County, near the town of Newport, WA.

(Photo Credit: USDA - US Forest Service - Public Domain)

Where is the Colville National Forest? - Map Showing the Forest and where the 2013 tree was located

Colville National Forest
Colville National Forest

The Colville National Forest is located in northeast Washington State. This map that was on display with the tree shows the shaded green areas of the forest boundaries and where the tree was located. The forest encompasses an area about the size of the state of Rhode Island, but is in several separated segments.

(Photo by VickiSims)

The Colville National Forest - Have you been there? - Take part in my poll

Colville National Forest
Colville National Forest

Have You Ever Been to the Colville National Forest?

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Map of the Colville National Forest - Planning a Visit to the Forest?

Most people have probably never heard of the beautiful Colville National Forest. It is well off the beaten path and surrounded by a sparsely populated area of Washington State that doesn't receive many tourists. If you want to visit a beautiful undiscovered part of the country, be sure to use a paper map of the forest to plan your trip. Much of the area is remote with poor cell phone service, so don't count on your phone apps to work.

Colville National Forest Map - Paper
Colville National Forest Map - Paper

The official US Forest Service Map of the Colville National Forest.

 

Watch the Cutting of the 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree - The cutting of the 88+ feet tall Engelmann Spruce

These two videos show the process of cutting and loading the 88 ft tall Engelmann Spruce that was selected from the Colville National forest to be the 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree.

This video combines still shots, video and music showing how the 2013 Capitol Christmas tree was cut and loaded onto the specially equipped trailer.

This video about the cutting of the 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree was created by the US Forest Service.

"Sharing Washingtons Good Nature" - From Washington State to Washington, DC with Love

Colville Ranger Station Newport WA
Colville Ranger Station Newport WA

The theme of the 2013 Tree is "Sharing Washington's Good Nature" and the tree is captured in this photo as it passes the Colville National Forest Ranger Station in the town of Newport, WA. From here, the lights will be strung, 5,000 ornaments handmade by residents of Washington State attached and it will be secured for its long trip to Washington, DC.

The cost of moving the tree, providing ornaments and hosting various events is paid by a non-profit organization. No tax dollars are used. The Capitol Christmas Tree is funded by donations and corporate sponsors. Some Forest Service Employees provide support as part of their salaried duties, but all expenses for lodging, meals, etc. while traveling with the tree is paid by corporate sponsors

(Photo credit: US Department of Agriculture - US Forest Service - Public Domain)

How is the Tree Kept From Drying Out? - Keeping the Tree Fresh During the Journey

Keeping the tree fresh
Keeping the tree fresh

An often asked question is how is this year's tree being kept from drying out on its 5,000+ mile journey across the country. To keep the tree fresh, the end of the trunk is surrounded with a 40 gallon reservoir of water. The tree requires over 50 gallons of water each day, so water is added frequently along the way.

(Photo Credit: USDA - US Forest Service - Public Domain)

The Tree is Secured and Enclosed - Plywood Sheets Surround the Tree

After lights and decorations were attached, the branches of the tree were secured and enclosed with plywood panels on the sides of the flatbed trailer. Then the trailer was covered with a huge tarp and the tree was ready to begin a journey around the State of Washington and then on to Washington, DC.

(Photo Credit: USDA - US Forest Service - Public Domain)

The Semi Hauling the Tree and its Beautiful Design - A Beautiful 2014 Mack Pinnacle Truck with a fabulous Decal

Capital Christmas Tree Mack Truck
Capital Christmas Tree Mack Truck

The semi truck hauling the tree was donated for the journey by Mack Truck. It is covered with a special Capitol Christmas Tree 2013 decal that was designed by Brad Walker, a resident of Kettle Falls, Washington, who lives near the Colville National Forest. It features the company mascot bulldog pulling a sled across the snow loaded with a Christmas Tree toward the familiar buildings of Washington, DC.

(Photo by VickiSims)

My Photos of the Capitol Christmas Tree in Everett, WA - The Tree Makes a Stop in Snohomish County, WA

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This photo shows what a long trailer is needed to haul the 80+ foot Capitol Christmas tree.The section with a clear tarp that looks like a window for viewing the tree.This is a view of some of the handmade ornaments based on the theme "Sharing Washington's Good Nature" including a salmon, an important state species.People are encouraged to sign the tarp as the tree stops along the way to Washington, DC.I bought one of the souvenir wooden cedar Christmas ornaments made in Washington state.Smokey the Bear was there to meet everyone.Goodbye to the Capitol Christmas Tree as it continues its journey to Washington, DC.
This photo shows what a long trailer is needed to haul the 80+ foot Capitol Christmas tree.
This photo shows what a long trailer is needed to haul the 80+ foot Capitol Christmas tree.
The section with a clear tarp that looks like a window for viewing the tree.
The section with a clear tarp that looks like a window for viewing the tree.
This is a view of some of the handmade ornaments based on the theme "Sharing Washington's Good Nature" including a salmon, an important state species.
This is a view of some of the handmade ornaments based on the theme "Sharing Washington's Good Nature" including a salmon, an important state species.
People are encouraged to sign the tarp as the tree stops along the way to Washington, DC.
People are encouraged to sign the tarp as the tree stops along the way to Washington, DC.
I bought one of the souvenir wooden cedar Christmas ornaments made in Washington state.
I bought one of the souvenir wooden cedar Christmas ornaments made in Washington state.
Smokey the Bear was there to meet everyone.
Smokey the Bear was there to meet everyone.
Goodbye to the Capitol Christmas Tree as it continues its journey to Washington, DC.
Goodbye to the Capitol Christmas Tree as it continues its journey to Washington, DC.

The Lighting of the US Capitol Christmas Tree 2013 - Tree Lighting Ceremony December

This is a video showing the lighting ceremony on the west lawn in front of the US Capitol on December 3, 2013. The 2013 tree came from the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington State.

Watch the 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting.

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United States Capitol Christmas Ornaments - Washington DC Christmas Collector's items and Memorabilia

Every year a US Congress official commemorative Christmas ornament is created. They have become popular items for collectors.

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Have you ever seen the Capitol Christmas Tree? - Please share your comments

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    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 3 years ago from Europe

      What great tradition, I'm sure if the tree was coming anywhere near me I'd head out to cheer it on its way. In the UK we have a tree in London's Trafalgar Square each year which is given by the people of Norway in thanks for the help Britain offered during WWII, I guess that's our national Christmas tree.

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      That is one beautiful tree. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 3 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I really enjoyed learning more about the Capitol Christmas Tree. It is beautiful.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Wow, a wonderful story indeed. I find things like this very interesting and you told it so well. Thanks for sharing the story.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      really interesting to read, thank you! and I love the capital tree - am always anxious to see it every year

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