In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson started a tradition that lasts through today. Since that time, our nation lights a Christmas tree to celebrate the holiday season and draw tourists to a cold capital city.
That first tree stood at the Capitol Building and drew a crowd of 20,00 people on Christmas Eve. The U.S. Marine Band , 1,000 singers, and a costumed recreation of the Nativity performed for the event. Today, a tree is still decorated at the US Capitol, however in 1923 President Coolridge lit the first “National Tree” in President’s Park, or the Ellipse as we refer to it today.
In 1978 a 15-year-old 30 foot tall tree moved from York, PA to DC to serve as the tree beloved by a nation. The tree started out a gift to the Myers family from their grandchildren. National Park Service horticulturists, searching for a tree such as this one, were not only given the tree by the Myers family but the workers received homemade soup from Mrs Myers as they prepared the tree for transport.
Since that time, five US Presidents lit the tree and millions traveled to view the mighty tree.
For my family, one of our joys at Christmas time involved traveling into the city to see the decorations and lights. The National Christmas Tree topped our usual stops. When we last saw it, the tree stood at nearly 42 feet tall. An impressive sight, especially when lit up with the holiday lights.
Sadly, the holiday tradition of hundreds of thousands will bring a different experience this holiday season, because today the National Christmas Tree fell over, a casualty to the high winds over the last few days. According to the DC EMS Fire tweetstream, the tree’s base split. Interestingly, the previous two trees that stood here also fell due to winds.
The NPS plans to find a new tree to plant in the same spot.
My family mourns the tree that I grew up in this area visiting. I don’t know how to imagine the Ellipse without out. Sadly, due to an injury, we couldn’t visit this past Christmas. We will await the news of a new tree and make plans to visit it this Christmas.