When the sun rises over the chilly peaks of the Sierra Nevada on Saturday, a tribal elder from the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians will bless the giant Sierra white fir that will eventually be erected in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. as the nation’s Christmas tree.
And once it’s cut, the 65-foot tree will be loaded onto a truck for a 20-day tour that includes stops in big cities, small towns (including Oakdale) and military bases across the country so that Americans from all walks of life can see “The People’s Tree” before it’s set up in front of the U.S. Capitol.
“For the next couple of months, this majestic white fir from the Stanislaus National Forest will be one of the most photographed trees in the world,” said Maria Benech, coordinator of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. “It will stand in front of our Capitol, illuminated with 10,000 lights and nearly 3,000 handmade ornaments as a gift from California and an internationally recognized symbol of the holiday season.”
Special events are being planned throughout the Capitol Christmas Tree Tour, which include everything from parades to outdoor fairs and musical performances by local school choirs and bands. Traditional Native American blessings and gift exchanges are also being arranged in some locations along the tour. Oakdale is planning a red, white and blue racing pigeon release and performances by local square dancers and the high school jazz band as part of its festivities.
“We’re working with city officials and volunteers across the country to make this tour a memorable experience,” Benech said, adding that the truck that transports the Christmas tree will be surrounded by a 54-foot waterproof banner that people can sign like a giant holiday card to wish their fellow Americans a joyful holiday season.
The tree is scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 28, while the official U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony takes place at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6. That’s when 7-year-old Johnny Crawford of Sonora will throw the switch that turns on the 10,000 LED lights that illuminate the tree in a ceremony hosted by Speaker of the House John Boehner.
Speaker of the House John W. McCormack (D-MA) started the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree tradition in 1964. This year is only the fourth time in history that California will supply “The People’s Tree.”
But while the cutting of the tree is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, most of the costs associated with transporting of the tree across the country are covered by donations from the business community, including Bosch, Wells Fargo, Black Oak Casino and the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians. This year’s partners also include Mack Trucks and Royal Trucking of Concord, which are providing trucks and drivers to transport the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree as well as 100 smaller trees that will be placed in federal offices throughout Washington.
SkyBitz, another donor, will be using its GPS tracking systems to track the Christmas tree as it makes its way across the country and will post real-time information on the tree’s location on its website.
Volvo Trucks is also providing a truck and driver to transport donated food that is being collected during the California section of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Tour as a gift from the people of California to Gallup, N.M., which suffers from some of the highest levels of poverty in the nation. This year’s non-profit partners include the Pacific Forest Trust and the Sonora Area Foundation.
Volunteers and local organizations are contributing thousands of hours of their time coordinating the tree cutting and transport, making ornaments, and organizing special events in celebration of the tree as it makes its way across the country.