About one week after its arrival to Washington, D.C., the Capitol Christmas Tree flashed its 10,000 lights and dazzled onlookers on the west front lawn of the Capitol Dec. 6.
Speaker of the House John Boehner and 7-year-old Johnny Crawford of Sonora, Calif., who was randomly selected to help light the tree, lit the 63-foot Sierra white fir that hails from the Stanislaus National Forest in northern California. The verdant tree was adorned with about 3,000 ornaments which were all voluntarily homemade by residents of the Golden State.
During the 20-day, 4,500-mile cross-country trip, which was funded by private sponsors, the Californian tree made 23 stops in nine states, including Gallup, N.M., the third poorest community in the United States. For the first time, the U.S. Forest Service’s Capitol Christmas Tree team delivered 14 pallets of non-perishable food items, all donated by California residents during the tree’s home state tour, to two food pantries in Gallup 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.”
Also for the first time in the holiday project’s history, the Forest Service partnered with a local American Indian tribe from the tree’s home of Tuolumne County. The Tuolumne Band of Me-wuk Indians blessed the Sierra white fir in a ceremony prior to the tree’s harvesting.
Following tradition involving community members of the national forest’s home state, the Capitol Christmas Tree team held two contests to feature winning artists and singers whose work represented this year’s theme of “California Shines.” The winners were California natives: Marc Davis of Dublin, Calif. for his winning photograph titled “Granite Ablaze,” and singers Kate Wallace and Anne J. Dahlgren for their song titled “Peace, Peace, Peace.”
The Capitol Christmas Tree “brings people together and I think that’s what the season’s about,” said Maria Benech, Forest Service Capitol Christmas Tree coordinator from the Stanislaus National Forest. “We’re very honored to provide the tree from the state of California as a gift to the people of the nation.”
The Capitol Christmas Tree will be lit every evening from dusk to 11 p.m. through Jan. 1, 2012.