Capitol Christmas tree to make Vancouver stop

88-foot-tall giant grew in the Colville National Forest

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you go

What: The Capitol Christmas Tree, which comes from Washington state this year, will stop in Vancouver before heading to Washington, D.C.

Where: Heritage Square, also known as Block 10, at Eighth and Washington streets.

When: 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday.

Cost: Free.

Information: Capitol Christmas Tree.

U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree by the numbers

88: Height in feet of the Engelmann spruce from the Colville National Forest selected as the 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree.

65: Height in feet of the Pacific silver fir from the Olympic National Forest used as the Capitol Christmas Tree in 2006, the only other tree to come from Washington.

85: Length in feet of the trailer carrying this year’s tree.

3: Days to package up the Englemann spruce from when it was cut down on Nov. 1.

30 to 40: Gallons of water held in a special bladder at the bottom of the tree used to keep it cool and alive while it travels.

80: Number of 6- to 20-foot tall companion trees donated by Washington tree farms that travel with the large tree to Washington D.C., to decorate the Capitol.

9,000: Ornaments donated to decorate the tree, mostly from students and community members from Washington state.

10,000: LED lights used to illuminate the tree.

4,000: Miles traveled by the tree on its way to Washington D.C.

Christmas is rolling into Vancouver a little early this year — for a cameo appearance, at least.

From 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Santa Claus, his elves, Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl will look on as a gigantic Engelmann spruce tree makes a quick stop at Heritage Square on its way to the nation's capitol.

The 88-foot-tall behemoth, from the Colville National Forest, is the second Washington tree to be selected as the Capitol Christmas Tree. It will decorate the lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building when it arrives there in late November.

"It's a big honor for the state," said Katlin Smith, a spokeswoman for the Rotary Festival of Trees, a sponsor of the Vancouver event. "Every city where it stops in Washington will also give a gift basket, and those baskets will go to other states on its route across the country."

Included in the Clark County basket will be wine from Burnt Bridge Creek Cellars, books about Clark County and Washington state, custom ornaments from the Fort Vancouver National Trust's gift shop and other locally made products.

Visitors to Saturday's festivities can also sign a banner with Christmas messages that will be carried along to the nation's capital for display.

"How often do you get to look at and participate in something that you know will be on TV and in the media -- and that will represent our state to the nation?" said Kim Bennett, president and CEO of the Vancouver USA Regional Tourism Office, which is also sponsoring the event.

Her office provided several packs of decorative note cards that will be given out in gift baskets at a special party when the tree arrives in Washington, D.C.

"We have some beautiful pencil etching, watercolored note card packages that highlight different areas around Southwest Washington," Bennett said.

The big tree, which was cut down Nov. 1, also has some traveling companions on its journey across the country. It will be accompanied by 80 6- to 20-foot-tall trees donated by local tree farms and about 9.000 ornaments donated from students and community members from across the state.

The Engelmann spruce is the second-tallest ever chosen for the honor, easily dwarfing the 65-foot-tall Pacific silver fir chosen from Washington in 2006. The only taller tree was an 89-foot-tall Englemann spruce sent from Montana in 1989.

"Actually, the tree is pretty averaged-sized for us," said Frank Pemberton, a spokesman for the Colville National Forest. "We grow some pretty big trees around here."

Theodore R. Bechtol, Jr., superintendent of the Capitol Grounds for the Architect of the Capitol's office, selected the tree in June 2012. But the U.S. Forest Service kept the exact location top secret until it was cut down last week, Pemberton said.

"We had to keep it under wraps," Pemberton said. "We kept it as a secured site. Once people find out it's going to be the Capitol Tree, there's a bit of a threat."

The Forest Service selects a different tree from across the country each year for the Capitol Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, which began in 1964.

A separate celebration at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, a permanent tree on the White House lawn, is also held each year. That tradition began in 1923.

The Engelmann spruce will make about a dozen stops in Washington state before traveling through the southern part of the country, stopping in Flagstaff, Ariz.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Dallas, Texas; Nashville, Tenn., and several other cities.

The Vancouver stop, at Eighth and Washington streets, will include holiday music, entertainment and some vendors with recycled arts. Nearby, Divine Consign, 904 Main St., will host a preview of trees that will be raffled off this year as part of Rotary's Festival of Trees, which benefits local charities.

Rotary decided to raffle off the trees, which are decorated by local artists and valued at between $2,500 and $10,000, instead of auctioning them off this year because of several requests by the public, Smith said.

"We decided to switch it up this year, and the trees are just beautiful," Smith said.

Raffle tickets are $5 each.

Visitors to the Saturday event are also encouraged to bring no-perishable items to be donated to the food pantry F.I.S.H. of Vancouver.

Visit for more information on the Rotary Festival of Trees and the Capitol Christmas Tree's stop in Clark County.

Christmas tree timeline

Before they were associated with Christmas, people in several countries considered evergreen trees holy and used them to ward off witches, ghosts, evil spirits and illness. Around the winter solstice, people would bring evergreen trees and boughs indoors to remind themselves that spring would soon come and crops would grow again.

• The modern tradition of having a decorated Christmas tree in the home started in Germany in the 16th century. Some historians say Protestant reformer Martin Luther was the first to add lighted candles to his tree at around that time.

• In the mid-1600s, English leader and Puritan Oliver Cromwell decried “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, trees, and any other celebrations that tarnished “that sacred event.”

• In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts created a Puritan law that made any activities other than church services a penal offense on Christmas. Those who put up decorations were fined.

• Until the 1840s, many people in the United States considered Christmas trees a pagan symbol and refused to use them, although German immigrants often carried on the tradition.

• In 1846, The Illustrated London News printed a sketch of the popular Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with their children standing around a Christmas tree. That helped the tradition become widely accepted both in England and the United States.

• In 1912, the first outdoor community Christmas tree in the United States was erected in New York City.

• In 1913, Washington D.C. held its first outdoor community tree lighting ceremony, “A Civic Christmas.”

• In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge started the tradition of the National Christmas Tree, which is different than the Capitol Christmas Tree. The National Tree Lighting Ceremony is held every year on the White House lawn. The National Tree is a live, planted Blue Spruce, although it has died and been replaced a few times.

• In 1964, the tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree began when the House Speaker placed a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. That tree died after the lighting ceremony in 1968.

• In 1970, the capitol architect asked the U.S. Forest Service to provide a Capitol Christmas Tree on an ongoing basis. Since then, a different national forest has been chosen each year to provide what’s been dubbed “The People’s Tree.”

• 2013 will be the second time that Washington state has provided the Capitol Christmas Tree. In 2006, a Pacific silver fir was provided from the Olympic National Forest. Washington has also provided the White House Christmas Tree, an indoor tree, at least seven times.

Source: and

Christmas Tree