A Piece of Alaska Adorns U.S. Capitol Lawn

Light it up

Capitol Christmas Tree lit
(All photos courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol)

The view from the plush office of the U.S. Speaker of the House in the Capitol Building is, in a word, extraordinary. But when House Speaker Paul Ryan draws the drapes to gaze out over the Capitol Reflecting Pool and beyond to the Washington Monument this holiday season, the first thing he sees comes straight from the Kenai Peninsula.

Standing 74-feet tall, a Lutz spruce from the Chugach National Forest near Seward, Alaska, is this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree. The 90-year-old tree was harvested in late October about five miles from the town of Seward, where it began a 4,000 mile journey to the nation’s capital.

When it came time for the official tree-lighting ceremony, Speaker Ryan performed the honors. He was joined by several other members of Congress, including Alaska’s congressional delegation. This is, after all, the first tree from Alaska selected to be the Capitol Christmas Tree.

“So to the Forest Service, the people of Alaska, to everyone here tonight, I just want to say on behalf of Congress, thank you,” Speaker Ryan said before he invited Soldotna fifth grader Anna DeVolld to the podium to flip the switch and light the tree.

DeVolld had won an essay contest that earned her the trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in the ceremony. “After reading her essay, I wish Anna had written my speech,” quipped Speaker Ryan. (Read Anna’s essay below)

A journey of 4,000 miles

Schank 2The stalwart spruce officially began its journey Oct. 27, when the U.S. Forest Service orchestrated the ceremony to fell the giant. The Lutz Spruce, a hybrid of Sitka and white spruce, came from an area of the Chugach National Forest just outside of Seward and about 300 feet off the Seward Highway.

This was not your average tree-felling. There was no shout of “Timber!” before the 74-foot tree crashed to the ground. Instead, the area surrounding the tree was cleared and filled in with dirt. Then, two cranes plucked the 7,500-pound tree as if it were a candle being gently pulled from a birthday cake.

A contingent from the Kenaitze Indian Tribe participated in the felling ceremony, including Tribal member and CIRI shareholder Jon Ross, who performed a blessing that involved smudging the tree with sage and asking the tree’s permission.

“It is an honor to have this tree from our area go to our nation’s capital and be on display for the whole world and for our whole nation,” Ross said at the event.

set up 2From Seward, the tree was loaded onto a truck and brought to Anchorage where its next stop was on a cargo ship heading south for Seattle. It is believed to be the first Capitol Christmas Tree to spend time on a boat. From Seattle, it toured through Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and a collection of other states as it trucked across the upper Midwest. It arrived at its final stop, on Capitol Hill, Nov. 20.

O, Christmas Tree

The tradition of erecting an official Capitol Christmas Tree began in 1964. By 1970, the U.S. Forest Service got in on the act and began delivering trees from the national forests. It wasn’t until 1986 that a tree was finally selected from the west. That year, it came from California.

But never had one come from Alaska. Never had one come from a non-contiguous U.S. state. Never had it traveled on a boat. This old spruce from Seward delivered a lot of “firsts.”

“When you look at the tree that has traveled 4,000 miles to grace this capitol, grace this mall, maybe, just maybe, you can get a sense of the majesty, the grandeur and the awe that is Alaska,” said Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski at the lighting ceremony. Murkowski worked hard to help make the first Alaskan Capitol Christmas Tree a reality.

arrivalA misty rain couldn’t dampen the spirit on the West Lawn of the Capitol. “A symbol of Alaska—tall, proud and beautiful,” Alaska Rep. Don Young said of the tree, while Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan said, “Like my state, this tree is a beauty! And it will help spread the Christmas spirit throughout the Capitol.”

The tree is adorned with more than 4,000 ornaments. The ornaments’ designs were inspired by ten Alaska artists selected by the Alaska State Council on the Arts and Alaska Geographic. The Capitol Christmas Tree will be lit from dusk until 11 p.m. each evening until Jan. 1, 2016.

To watch House Speaker Paul Ryan light the tree with Soldotna fifth grader Anna DeVolld, visit www.speaker.gov/press-release/heres-2015-capitol-christmas-tree.

Anna DeVolld’s Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Contest Essay

Set-upSoldotna fifth-grader Anna Devolld’s winning essay answers the question: Why is it special to have a Christmas tree from Alaska?

“A Christmas tree from the Chugach National Forest is a special symbol of Alaska to the nation. The tree lights display the Aurora Borealis, shimmering across the heavens. Tinsel resembles the Alaskan glaciers that sparkle day and night. Ornaments represent the wild Alaskan creatures that dot the forests, sky and seas. A tall, colorful Christmas tree mirrors the towering Alaskan mountains. Evergreen needles symbolize the Alaskan’s adventurous spirit that never fades. Strong spruce branches stand for Alaskans’ freedom that survives despite troubles. Alaskan Christmas trees are special because they are a symbol of Alaskan pride.”