I'm a firm believer in holding the Thanksgiving line, as we struggle in the annual war of attrition that is the fight to keep Christmas sane. There is a well reasoned argument to be made to fall back to the Halloween line, and cede Thanksgiving to the forces of darkness, but I'm sticking to Thanksgiving. I'm no stranger to quixotic battles, and I refuse to start my Christmas celebrations before I've had my full of turkey.
But I suppose those that are making plans to come here for the holidays probably should plan ahead a bit. Plane tickets have to be purchased, hotels booked, Congressmen bribed, and so on. So I'll compromise somewhat and throw you a small bone, with the strict understanding that nothing in this post authorises anything, not even a single piece of tinsel, to go up before 12:01 am this Friday. And frankly, I'd prefer you wait until December 1st.
Obviously, the best known Christmas icon in DC is the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse. The current tree is a Colorado Blue Spruce and was planted in its present location in 1978. It was fifteen years old at the time and transplanted from the home of a family in York, Pennsylvania where it had been a Mother's Day present some years before. However, the ceremony itself (with other trees) dates back to 1923, when Calvin Coolidge lit the first National Christmas Tree, illuminated by 2,500 electric bulbs. The ceremony has gone through many iterations as different trees and locations were tried out, and perhaps most famously remained unlit by order of President Carter during the Iran Hostage Crisis.
The Tree will be lit again this year on December 3rd, and if you came across this site looking for a way to attend, it's too late this year. However, it will be webcast live and broadcast on Friday the 4th for the first time ever on PBS. Nothing says Christmas like huddling with your family around a computer and watching the President flip a switch. Frankly, since 9-11 the ceremony has gone into the "too much trouble for what you see" category for me (see also Inaugurations and Easter Egg Rolls), but once the crowds have left, grab some hot chocolate and take a stroll down to the Ellipse. It's worth a visit.
But the National Christmas Tree is not the only show in town. I often have visitors who looked at me puzzled and say "I thought the tree came from my state?". Unless they're from Pennsylvania they are mistaken, but it's an easy slip up to make. For in addition to the National Christmas Tree, we have a few other options in town:
- Capitol Christmas Tree: Unwilling to be shown up, the legislative branch has had their own Christmas Tree on the West Front of the Capitol since 1964. Not a permanent tree, it comes from a different National Forest every year, courtesy of the US Forest Service. In 1999, the tree was quietly renamed the Capitol Holiday Tree, which even my agnostic leanings find foolish. It was safely renamed the Capitol Christmas Tree in 2004. If you're going to attend a lighting ceremony, I'd recommend this one over the National Tree; as it still remains some semblance of the holiday spirit. This year's tree is an 85 foot blue spruce from Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in Arizona, and will be lit on December 8th.
- White House Christmas Tree: I list this, not because you have any chance in seeing it, but because this is another tree often confused with the National Christmas Tree. By far the oldest traditional tree, it has been a part of White House Christmases since the mid-1800s. Jackie Kennedy started the tradition of a themed tree, with a "Nutcracker Christmas" 1961, and it continues to this day. This year, the first for the Obamas, the tree was selected from Sunback's farm in West Virginia, which has also supplied two trees for the Reagans and one for the Carters. And no, neither the White House nor President Obama have banned religious ornaments from the tree. I missed this month's newsletter, but I believe the godless atheists have decided to wait to the second term before taking over the country via Christmas.
- Norwegian Christmas Tree: My personal favorite, simply because I can gaze at indoors. And it has a cool model train set. For the thirteenth year in a row, our close friends at the Norwegian Embassy set up a Christmas Tree in the Great Hall of Union Station (presumably they have permission to do so). The tree will be lit on the third, just like the National Tree. Be sure to come out for the bazaar the weekend afterwards, they usually have some clever gift ideas. Although I'd be wary of the Norwegian cookbook my wife got me a few years; most of the recipes seemed to involve destroying a perfectly good fish in unique ways.
So I hope that will keep you early Christmas lovers at bay. I'll share a few more upcoming events with you as the holidays approach, but that'll have to do for now. If you have ideas of your own or events you want our visitors to know about, feel free to leave a link in the comments, either here or on our Facebook site.
Now, I'm off to get a turkey.