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It Takes a Community to Prepare the Capitol Christmas Tree

When the 65-foot Californian white fir from the Stanislaus National Forest arrives at the Capitol at the start of the holiday season, it will arrive with several thousand of its friends from California.

The Californian friends will be ornaments, as many as 5,000, that will decorate the Capitol Christmas Tree. Each ornament, which will stand 9 to 12 inches tall and be built strongly enough to endure Washington D.C.’s winter, will be handmade by residents of the Golden State.

This is just one example of what happens behind the scenes of preparing the “People’s Tree.” Community efforts play a major role in this annual holiday project, including providing the thousands of ornaments. This year, the state of California also will showcase winning selections from its song search and art contest to share with the nation.

“Peace, Peace, Peace” is the title track that Californians Kate Wallace and Annie J. Dahlgren will perform just before the tree is lit on Dec. 6. Wallace, an award-winning singer and songwriter, returned to California after spending 11 years living in Nashville, Tenn. She and Dahlgren, who grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., co-wrote the song, which can be heard on the Capitol Christmas Tree’s Web site.

“I knew immediately, when I heard about the song search, that it was something I wanted to try,” Wallace said. “We asked ourselves, ‘What would we want the global community to hear from this nation, courtesy of California, as we light the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree? It was, without hesitation, joy, love, understanding, and peace.”

Another tradition that accompanies the preparation period leading to the lighting of the Capitol Christmas Tree is the art contest that was open to California residents. Before the tree was selected on the Stanislaus National Forest, contest participants were asked to create representations of a tree, at least 60 feet tall, in line with this year’s theme of “California Shines.”

Marc Davis of Dublin, Calif. provided the winning artwork with his photograph titled “Granite Ablaze.” Davis’ photograph will be added to the permanent display of previous years’ winning artwork at the Washington office of the U.S. Forest Service.

As the tree makes its way toward the District of Columbia, it will make 23 stops in nine states, including New Mexico. When the Stanislaus National Forest team was planning the tree’s cross-country journey, it learned from a U.S. Census report that New Mexico has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, with about 40,000 residents seeking food assistance weekly. Learning this information led to the idea of “paying it forward.”

For the first time in the Capitol Christmas Tree project’s history, the Forest Service is holding a food drive called “Pay it Forward,” which will involve collecting food along the tree’s stops in California, and ultimately presenting New Mexico with a gift from its neighboring western state. The food will be delivered to two food pantries in Gallup, N.M. on Nov. 16.

“It seemed like the right thing to do,” said Shandy Bearden, a Forest Service member of the Christmas tree planning team. “Even a 6-year-old can give a can of food and feel good that they’re giving something of themselves and that they’re sharing.”

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