In less than two months, a 65-foot Californian white fir from Stanislaus National Forest will grace the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
Have you ever wondered how the Capitol Christmas Tree is selected?
Since 1970, the U.S. Forest Service has provided a Christmas tree to adorn the great lawn below the Capitol dome. Each year several trees are nominated by their national forests. The winning tree is ultimately selected by the superintendent of the Capitol Grounds of the office of the Architect of the Capitol. Ted Bechtol has selected the Capitol Christmas Tree since 2005.
Bechtol has compared his search for the tree to a beauty contest. During his search for the perfect tree on the Stanislaus National Forest in July, he looked specifically for three characteristics: a full and symmetrical shape with a straight trunk, its ability to hold ornaments well, and a good, healthy color for the species. If a nominated tree did not meet the above requirements, it was eliminated from the pool.
The tree is not designated the title of Capitol Christmas Tree, however, until it is delivered to the Capitol and accepted by Stephen Ayers, Architect of the Capitol.
In early November, a white fir will be harvested on the Stanislaus National Forest and will embark on a 20-day cross-country road trip. The splendid tree will visit 23 stops in nine states before it arrives in Washington, D.C. soon after Thanksgiving. During its journey, the tree will be transported on a double flatbed truck and will also be accompanied by an entourage of Forest Service officials and a law enforcement team.
Upon arrival, the tree will be lowered about five feet into the grounds of the Capitol’s west lawn. The Capitol Grounds crew will then spend “about one week to decorate the tree with approximately 3,000 ornaments and about 10,000 lights,” Bechtol said. In fact, residents of the tree’s hometown of California will make by hand thousands of the ornaments.
In less than two months, a lucky child will fly from California to join the Speaker of the House John Boehner to flip on the 10,000 lights on The People’s Tree, as it is affectionately called. On Dec. 6, Bechtol will be one of the hundreds of spectators watching the tree lighting ceremony.
“It’s always a great thrill when the lights are switched on for the first time each December,” he said.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the man who selects the nation’s Christmas tree has no say at home.
“My wife and daughters don’t let me pick out our tree at home.”