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ZippyTheChimp
December 1st, 2005, 07:43 AM
Three Trees, but Only One Star?

Relations Among White House, Capitol and New York Not Always Peace on Earth


By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 1, 2005


There is skulduggery afoot. There are unspoken rules, there is upstaging and there is backbiting. Some who talk about such things insist on anonymity. Others refuse comment.

The issue is Christmas trees.

According to the calendar of official Washington, the holiday season kicks off tonight, when the president and first lady flip the switch to light thousands of bulbs on the Colorado blue spruce on the Ellipse, the one the White House declares the nation's official Christmas tree.

Except New York flipped the switch last night for the tree at Rockefeller Plaza. It was, said some steeped in the tree wars, a careful, calculated decision to preempt the president.

National Christmas Tree organizers bristle at the call they say comes each year from New York asking when the president will light the White House tree. And then the tree at Rockefeller Plaza sometimes is lighted before that.

The spokeswoman for Rockefeller Center issued a statement declining to comment.

"I don't think they should do that. New York tries to kind of outshine us, and it is a little bit irritating," said David Curfman, the official historian for the White House tree and an executive board member for the Pageant of Peace, which includes the festivities connected with the tree on the Ellipse.

The Washington-New York rivalry is legendary. But inside the Beltway, there is another tree duel: the White House vs. the Congress.
The National Christmas Tree is elaborately decorated and lighted by General Electric Co. There are snowflakes, a giant model train and singers, dancers, movie stars and TV personalities.

The event has evolved since the first tree was decorated in 1913. The lighting became a presidential ceremony in 1923, when White House aides told a somewhat reclusive Calvin Coolidge they couldn't afford an extension cord that would reach from the tree to his office.

Politics has always played a part in the pageantry. Trees were planted live when the sensibilities of the time frowned upon cut trees, they were dimmed when wartime dictated it and they were beautified for television when the nation tuned in.

"This is the National Christmas Tree, and this is the 82nd year in a row it has been the nation's tree," said Bill Line, a spokesman for the National Park Service.

In the 1960s, Congress decided it was time for a Capitol tree. After several failed attempts to cultivate live trees, the U.S. Forest Service delivered a 40-foot Norway spruce from West Virginia in 1970, giving birth to an annual tradition.

The Capitol tree comes from a different national forest every year, and states jockey to donate. They form fundraising committees and throw fundraising galas, in the manner of political campaigns.

Once chosen and cut down, after an appraisal from the Capitol landscaper, the tree is taken on a tour of small-town hot chocolate and caroling festivals before arriving at Capitol Hill.

The Capitol tree is decorated with thousands of handcrafted ornaments made by students and artists. Home-state politicians surround it during the lighting ceremony.

"I think the tree is the people's tree; it complements the other tree by the White House," said Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol, the office responsible for the tree. "I think of the White House tree as the one in your formal living room. Then the Capitol tree is the one in your family room, with the ornaments you made."

Paul Pincus, a former chief Capitol landscaper and the tree's steward until his retirement in 1995, had a less flattering comparison: "The feeling, the emotion that goes into the Capitol tree is something really special. That other tree, some decorator does that tree; there's nothing personal about it. It looks like it could be in any shopping mall."

Landscapers are very, very careful to place the tree precisely in the center of the Capitol lawn, equidistant from the House and the Senate sides, said one person who survived a year when the tree wasn't placed so judiciously. He did not want to be named.

That is just one of the niceties. The White House gets to light its tree first. That has been flouted in years past, reflecting political schisms, such as in the early 1980s, when House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, a Democrat, usually lighted the congressional tree the day before President Reagan lighted his.

Pincus claims some responsibility. "Every year, I'd wait to see when the White House was doing theirs. Then I'd schedule ours the day before," he said. But things are different now, he said.

This year, with a White House and congressional majority that generally agree, the discussions are civil. "It is an unspoken rule that the National Tree is lit first these days," Curfman said. The Capitol tree ceremony will be next Thursday.

But there is always room for adjustment. In the early 1990s, the Capitol tree became known officially as the "Capitol Holiday Tree," a nod to non-Christians. Pincus said he was proud that there were no angels on top of the tree -- it was festive but nondenominational.

"We got lots of letters back then from people who thought it should be called the holiday tree, simple as that," said Pincus.

Not this year. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) wrote a letter to the architect of the Capitol asking that the tree be renamed the Capitol Christmas Tree, and the architect obliged.

"The speaker wanted the name changed to reflect what it is -- a Christmas tree," said Hastert's spokesman, Ron Bonjean. "The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive."

Over on the Ellipse, supporters of the White House tree said they approved of the name change. As long as it is not lighted first.


Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

2005 The Washington Post Company




A Growing Tradition
Capitol Christmas tree height, in feet:


http://media3.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2005/12/01/GR2005120100101.gif

I think it's also a graph of the National Debt.

Ninjahedge
December 1st, 2005, 08:42 AM
I cry PROPAGANDA!!!!

This is supposed to be a holiday of giving rescheduled to cover a pagan holiday of celebration. To complain about the Rockefeller tree upstaging the DC tree is stupid.

Also, all the attention given to it is also irritating. I think it is nice, but I don't have carolers and actresses at my place for my tree lighting!


I think a tree in the oval office would look better than a huge one outside on the Capitol lawn.


And we are also avoiding the core issue here. What happens if we ever get a Jewish President? Are we going to ask the states to donate a 40' Menorah?

:P

lofter1
December 1st, 2005, 09:18 AM
Celebrate the Winter Solstice and the Return of the Light!

(No matter that it has been co-opted by various religious groups.)

stache
December 1st, 2005, 01:03 PM
And now Lincoln Center is getting into the act with their own tree -

Ninjahedge
December 1st, 2005, 01:20 PM
And now Lincoln Center is getting into the act with their own tree -
Well you know, now that the number of Jews in NY is below 1 million........ ;)

ZippyTheChimp
December 1st, 2005, 04:56 PM
The tree on the Ellipse looks like one of Merlin's hats.

http://media.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/photo/2005/11/30/PH2005113002360.jpg

Edward
December 1st, 2005, 05:41 PM
What happens if we ever get a Jewish President? Or perhaps a Muslim president? It is not obvious that anyone else but white Christian male can be elected. How about small steps - white Christian woman for starters?

Ninjahedge
December 1st, 2005, 06:16 PM
Or perhaps a Muslim president? It is not obvious that anyone else but white Christian male can be elected. How about small steps - white Christian woman for starters?

Would she be pretty?

ZippyTheChimp
December 1st, 2005, 06:52 PM
white Christian woman for starters?I'd really like to see Ann Coulter pushing a stroller full of pups.

Ninjahedge
December 1st, 2005, 07:16 PM
I'd really like to see Ann Coulter pushing a stroller full of pups.

Who says she hasn't already?


What a b...........................oistrous woman...... :p

lofter1
December 1st, 2005, 07:23 PM
The tree on the Ellipse looks like one of Merlin's hats.
That is a very dark-sided view and undoubtedly not very Christmassy: http://media.putfile.com/Lady-Goes-Crazy-on-Trading-Spouses

ryan
December 1st, 2005, 08:28 PM
That is a very dark-sided view and undoubtedly not very Christmassy: http://media.putfile.com/Lady-Goes-Crazy-on-Trading-Spouses

oh my god it makes me want to go turn on fox! If only tv was always so awesome.

Ninjahedge
December 2nd, 2005, 09:14 AM
oh my god it makes me want to go turn on fox! If only tv was always so awesome.

[Cher Voice}

/Smack

SNAP OUT OF IT!

[/Cher Voice]

Mix106
December 2nd, 2005, 09:58 PM
Here in Lisbon we have the biggest Christmas Tree of Europe!!!:p
Its HUGE!!!

keil
December 5th, 2005, 04:38 AM
The tree on the Ellipse looks like one of Merlin's hats.

http://media.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/photo/2005/11/30/PH2005113002360.jpg


hahaha! funny :D but it looks really good and huge..:eek:

stache
December 5th, 2005, 07:08 AM
I saw the Rockefeller tree Saturay. It's neat, they put strobe lights on it as flashing ornaments. :)