Legislators in Washington now can step back from the “fiscal cliff” and take shelter under a Colorado tree. The lights are lit on the Capitol Christmas Tree, which made a 5,000-mile trek from Meeker, Colorado to the West Lawn of the Capitol. In a city better known for legislative fighting, the so-called “People’s Tree” has made the Capitol a setting for a silent night. David Frey reports from Washington.
Listen to the story here: Capitol Christmas Tree
After a momentous drive in a Mack truck with a low-emission diesel engine with former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell at the wheel, the massive Englemann spruce cut down in the White River National Forest near Meeker now stands in front of the Capitol Dome.
In Washington style, it was lit up with plenty of fanfare. Politicians spoke. Singers sang. An orchestra played. Then Colorado Springs High School senior Ryan Schuster flipped the switch and the lights went on.
House Speaker John Boehner invoked the story of the birth of Christ. Senator Mark Udall warned of global warming. Forest Service Chief Harris Sherman spoke of wildfires and bark beetles.
But after the ceremony, onlookers come by foot and bicycle to see the tree.
Each year since 1972, the Forest Service has chosen the so-called People’s Tree to stand on the lawn of the Capitol. This is just the third time it came from Colorado.
The 74-year-old tree stands 73-feet high. It’s wrapped in netting to shape it, and it’s decorated with 3,000 ornaments, mostly made by Colorado children. They depict skiers and mountain climbers, symbols for the Denver Broncos and the University of Colorado Buffalos, ancient Indian designs and one that reads simply “Palisade, Colorado.”
At night, the tree glows with 7,000 LED lights and a white star on top. People come by to snap pictures with cameras and smart phones with the tree in the foreground and the Capitol dome in the background. In a city better known for shouting matches, the tree inspires many viewers to speak in hushed whispers. And it looks like Christmas, even if the 60-degree nights don’t feel much like Christmas.
Rob Stern: “But this does get you in the spirit and get you thinking about it and seeing the creativity of the different ornaments and seeing how nicely decorated they do it. Nice to see kids’ art get a chance to shine in the spirit, and lots of people from all over the world will see it…”
Briana Turner: “I was very excited. The whole reason I came out here was the tree was from Colorado so I had to come out and represent my state.”
Gwynar Adili: “So we’re sort of on vacation, you know. So we looked at it and we were like it would be too bad if we don’t go and check it out. It just totally invites you.”
Suzanne and Jason Hite: “This is the first year we’ve come as a family.”
“Yeah, as a family.”
“It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.”
John Thomas Miller: “It’s beautiful. It’s always nice to see the tree against the Capitol building. It’s always a treat every December. But I always question the harvesting of a 73-year-old tree: why that is necessary and why it has to make a 5,000-mile journey all the way from Colorado.”
Kyra Elliott: “There’s some large ornaments and some handmade ornaments and some childlike ones. It’s really quite amazing.”
Sophia Hite: “It’s so big.”
Tom: “I was really amazed by the tree bra that’s on it. From the top down it’s all cabled in. It would be nice if it was more natural looking, but I suppose that doesn’t provide for a very good photo op, does it?”
Rob Stern: “I come out here every year, yeah. I come out and try to take pictures. I take pictures either of the national tree or the state tree each year and I share them with people on Facebook and email.”
Gwynar Adili: “This makes me think how they put the ornaments up there.”
Jason Hite: “Wow, I wonder who had to sit there and get on the lift and go, OK, trim here, trim there…
John Thomas Miller: “I’m not an eco-Scrooge. I appreciate them doing the LED lights. You know, that’s the new thing in the past couple years to illuminate the tree and I think that’s the way everyone should move in terms of decorating their trees at home. But at the same time, this poor tree was there for 73 years and then it decides to make it’s journey for a month and then it’s gonna be gone.”
Rob Stern: “It’s a kind of peacefulness and it’s sort of a special combination of things. So if you’ve got the Capitol as your backdrop that’s kind of special. If you’ve got the White House as your backdrop, it just has kind of a unique feel. It’s an only in Washington kind of thing.”
“Rob Stern” … “My name’s Briana Turner” … “John Thomas Miller” … “I’m Kyra Elliott. And I’m Mendy Stone.” … “I’m Tom.” … “My name is Gwynar Adili.” … “I’m Suzanne Hite. And I’m Jason Hite. And this is? Sofia Hite.
And for Aspen Public Radio News in Washington DC, I’m David Frey.