Feature

A 60-foot Christmas gift is on its way to Washington, D.C.

Robert Hudson Westover
Office of Communication
November 7th, 2019 at 3:21PM
A picture of a 60-foot spruce from Carson National Forest with several people watching the tree being lifted up by a crane.
Local residents and officials attend the cutting ceremony at the Carson National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo by Shayne Martin, Deputy Director, Communication and Engagement, Southwestern Region.

At about 9 a.m. MST, in a remote section of the Carson National Forest in New Mexico, workers gently loaded a massive 60-foot blue spruce onto a very long trailer bed — the first stage of the tree’s 2,000-mile journey to Washington, D.C. The National Capitol Christmas Tree will stop in more than 25 communities as it makes its way across the country before arriving on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building on Monday, Nov. 25.

A major part of the annual celebration includes state-wide partnerships and community participation. As in years past, this tree will be adorned with thousands of ornaments made by school children from the state of origin--New Mexico.

The tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree, or “The People’s Tree,” began in 1964 when the Speaker of the House placed a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. In 1970, the Capitol Architect asked the USDA Forest Service to help.

Since then, a different national forest has been invited to provide “The People’s Tree” to celebrate the holidays each year. The Forest Service also works with state forests each year to provide smaller companion trees for offices in Washington, D.C.

This year’s theme will highlight a very important birthday. Not only is this year’s tree a beautiful Christmas gift to the nation, it is also a 75th birthday present to the world’s most recognized fire prevention hero, Smokey Bear.

A picture of a Christmas tree ornament that has two chili peppers in the middle, one red and one green.
Ornaments made by local school children in New Mexico. USDA Forest Service photo by Vidalia Vigil.

You see, the real Smokey Bear, the badly burned cub who helped inform Americans on the importance of wildland fire prevention, was found in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico after a forest fire in the late 1940s.

Anyone who has been following Smokey’s year-long 75th birthday celebration knows that he’s been a busy bear. He has walked in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, opened his very own exhibit at the National Zoo, and soon he will appear high in the sky as a giant balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

When Smokey attends the lighting of the National Capitol Christmas Tree on Wednesday, Dec. 4, it will be a fitting end to an amazing year of celebration and homage to the Forest Service tradition.

Follow the tree’s cross-country tour in real time beginning Nov. 11 at capitoltreetracker.com and on Twitter and Facebook.