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Oh Silent Light of the Capitol Christmas Tree

The 2013 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree shimmers like a thousand stars after a lighting ceremony on the west lawn of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Forest Service/Robert H. Westover)

The 2013 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree shimmers like a thousand stars after a lighting ceremony on the west lawn of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Forest Service/Robert H. Westover)

A crown jewel of American Christmas trees lit the night sky Dec. 3 as thousands of lights burst around the 88-foot-tall 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree. A momentary hush of silent awe overcame the crowd gathered on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol to witness the ceremony that has origins dating back to 1964.

An eight-point star shimmered at the top of the 79-year-old Englemann spruce harvested from the Colville National Forest in Washington State. Decorating the tree are hundreds of ornaments made by people of Washington, many of them drawn and glued together by school children.

The event began at dusk, hosted by Speaker of the House John A. Boehner who was assisted by 6-year-old Giovanni Gaynor, a first-grader from Colville, Wash. Gaynor made one of the 5,000 handcrafted ornaments and became this year’s representative to flip the switch to illuminate the giant spruce.

Gaynor received a surprise when Boehner and U.S. Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine named him a junior Capitol police officer for the day after learning he has dreams of being an officer.

“So, Giovanni, you got the hat, you got the badge. Here’s the switch right here,” Boehner said as they began the countdown to light the tree.

Emceed by the Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers the program, featured holiday music from The U.S. Marine Corps Band, which played “O Tannenbaum,” and note BUSTERS, a Washington, D.C., student vocal group.

Since the U.S. Forest Service’s tree arrived on Nov. 25, Architect of the Capitol employees spent a week preparing the conifer for the ceremony. Their arduous labor included securing the massive pine in the ground, using ground anchors to ensure it remains tall and erect.

The last phase of the job was indeed the most rewarding, visually that is, as workers hung the ornaments and strung the lights—just like at home, but only much bigger—as this tree drinks 30 gallons of water a day.

On the tree’s boughs hang fish-shaped ornaments, birds and stars designed to reflect the 2013 theme, “Sharing Washington’s Good Nature.”

Each year, the Capitol tree – referred to as the “People’s Tree” – is harvested from a national forest and is part of a year-round grass-roots effort by citizens of the state where the tree originated. No tax dollars are used. However, Forest Service employees are assigned to help oversee the project.

Watch the tree-lighting ceremony.

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