Heard on the Hill

Capitol Christmas tree almost ready to get lit!

60-foot blue spruce from New Mexico is scheduled to arrive at the Capitol on Nov. 25

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is displayed on the West Front of the Capitol last holiday season. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The U.S. Capitol Christmas tree is ready to make its 1,800-mile journey to Capitol Hill, following a rigorous “Bachelor”-like selection process, complete with its own cutting ceremony.

This year’s tree, a 60-foot tall, 21-foot wide blue spruce, comes from northern New Mexico’s Carson National Forest and will soon sit on the Capitol’s West Lawn. This is the third time the state has provided a tree.

The spruce is scheduled to arrive at the Capitol on Nov. 25 after it completes a two-week tour featuring stops in Texas, Tennessee and a Bass Pro Shops just outside Atlanta. 

Once the tree arrives, the Architect of the Capitol’s grounds team will begin decorating it with “thousands of handcrafted ornaments from the people of New Mexico,” according to the AOC. Speaker Nancy Pelosi will then light the tree during a Dec. 4 ceremony that will be free and open to the public.

Speaker John McCormack started the tradition in 1964, placing a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. The tree survived only three years but in 1970 the Architect of the Capitol began asking the U.S. Forest Service to donate one.

This summer the Forest Service in Taos, N.M., gave Jim Kaufmann, the AOC grounds director, 12 trees to choose from. Kaufmann said he felt pressure to search until he found a “flawless” tree.

“A perfect tree from afar, often showed flaws upon closer inspection: a forked or crooked trunk, thin branches or a shaded side with no branches,” Kaufmann wrote in a blog post.

Selecting the Christmas conifer is actually more complicated than one might think.

The tree “has to be perfect to fit the landscape of the Capitol,” said Kaufmann. And since it has to be “viewed from 360 degrees it can’t have a bad side. The branches have to be flexible enough to survive packing and transportation during a 2,000 mile trek. The branches also have to be strong enough to support the thousands of handmade ornaments that will adorn the tree.”

Kaufmann said he found the winner in an open area of the forest where it was allowed to grow full and straight.

The tree was honored with a cutting ceremony Wednesday morning that included blessings by Picuris Pueblo Gov. Craig Quanchello and other Pueblo Indians.

The tree will be lit each day from dusk to 11 p.m., until Jan. 1. You can track the tree's journey at capitoltreetracker.com, beginning Nov. 11.

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