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Trim the Tree! A Brief History of the Capitol Christmas Tree

Although there are indications that the Capitol building purchased Christmas trees in other years, it wasn't until 1964 that an official annual celebration was held. It was that year that the supervising office of the grounds at the Capitol dome decided to purchase a one and plant it on the Western lawn of the Capitol building. Thus, the tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree was born.

John McCormack, the Speaker of the House in 1963, had made the suggestion for an annual search and celebration, which was acted upon the following year.

The Capitol Christmas Tree is different from the National Christmas Tree. The National Tree is the one that is actually used at the White House, where it too, is placed on the western lawn, but in that case, near the residence of the President and the First Family during the holiday season.

The Capitol Christmas Tree celebration began in 1964 when a large Douglas Fir was purchased from a Pennsylvania nursery and actually planted on the grounds of the Capitol building. Consequently, the Capitol Tree was lit and redecorated as a live tree, each year through the 1967 holiday season. Apparently, in the Spring of 1967, a huge storm had caused root damage to the tree, and it unfortunately actually died after that holiday season. That tree had measured 24 feet high. Starting in 1968, other trees had to be used. In fact, two were combined to form the Capitol Christmas Tree in 1968. Those combined trees came from Maryland and when measured, were about a thirty foot tree. Then in 1969, another tree from Maryland was chosen. That one was forty feet tall.

Then in 1970, a major change occurred. Since that time, a different tree has been chosen every year from one of the states in the United States. The tree is chosen under supervision of the United States Forestry Service from a National Forest within that state. The final selection is made from a group of candidates submitted to the Architect of the Capitol.

The chosen tree is viewed as a gift of that state to the rest of the nation. Each year, the selected state holds contests for donations of handmade ornaments, a song contest is held, as well as a drawing where a child from that state is selected to help light the tree along with the Speaker of the House. The selected tree becomes the Capitol Christmas Tree for that year. In 2010, the state of Wyoming had this honor, and in 2011, it is the state of California. The 2011 theme is California Shines.