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.
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.