The Grand Canyon State was chosen to provide a giant Christmas tree for the U.S. Capitol this year for the first time since the tradition of picking trees from U.S. forests began in 1970.
My husband and I were lucky enough to see the cutting of the Christmas tree, known as “The People’s Tree,” in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest near Alpine. This beautiful 85-foot blue spruce—taller than a seven-story building—is estimated to be over 70 years old and weigh more than 7,000 pounds. It is the tallest tree ever selected for display on the lawn of the Capitol.
The tree-harvesting event started in the morning with free coffee and hot chocolate. People were milling around to view the tree and take pictures. A country band played to the crowd, performing a special song about the Christmas tree just for the event. During the cutting, a school choir sang carols to get everyone in a Christmas mood. The Apache Deer Dancers performed and gave their ceremonial blessing by dancing and singing in their native tongue. Then two giant cranes gently removed the tree from its roots and laid it on the 105-foot flatbed Mack truck that set out on a 10-day tour winding through 24 Arizona towns and cities on its way to Washington, D.C. The base of the tree was fitted with a plastic bladder to be filled with fresh water nightly, with the tree absorbing 65 gallons of water daily in order to keep it fresh during its trek.
A caravan of 12 vehicles, including two semi-trucks, escorted the tree eastward to begin a 3,000-mile, three-week tour to the Capitol.
Arizonans, mostly schoolchildren, made over 10,000 hand-crafted ornaments to decorate “The People’s Tree” and 80 smaller companion trees that are being provided to federal agencies in Washington. Each ornament was made from natural or recyclable materials. Nine to 12 inches tall for easy viewing, the ornaments had to be constructed to withstand three weeks of harsh winter weather. One full-sized semi-truck was needed just to transport all of the ornaments to the capital.
One lucky Arizona student who submitted an ornament will win a trip to Washington, D.C., where he or she will light the Capitol Christmas Tree 2009 with the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, on Dec. 8. During the lighting ceremony, Arizona culture will be celebrated in an event that will include an original cowboy poem and a performance by Native American dancers.
Being a native Arizonan, it was an unforgettable experience to be part of this historic and celebrated event. For more information, go to http://capitolchristmastree2009.org.