Almost every city spruces up for the holidays, but only one place can bring together every state in America in a celebration of winter wonder.
Washington honors the December holidays by including the entire country in a celebration, doing so with the National Christmas Tree. The tree is a sight to behold and worth a trip into the city, despite the recent freeze.
The lighting of a National Christmas Tree began in 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge shipped a massive evergreen down from upstate Vermont and decorated it on the Ellipse, a circular lawn just outside the White House’s South gates.
The tradition has continued every year since. This year’s tree has resided on the Ellipse since 1978, when it was planted as a spry 15-year-old. Now, it’s over 43 feet tall.
The 2010 celebration began on December 9th, when President Obama presided over the lighting of the tree for the holiday season.
It’s best to visit the tree at night, when it can be seen in its full splendor. Begin a trip by parking along Constitution Avenue, and walking up 14th Street to the Ellipse’s main entrance. Behind you looms the brightly-lit, beige Washington Monument, towering over the Mall.
While approaching the tree from afar, it can seem like just one massive light, a conical wall of bright white. The lighting on the tree is so dense it’s hard to even imagine an evergreen beneath it all.
But head closer and not only can you see the intricate detail and depth of color in the lights, but the tree itself. And up close, you realize the tree is not just one color, but an array of lights. Individual strands of greens, reds, blues and white become apparent to the eyes.
Around the base of the tree runs a model railroad route, complete with different stations and miniature cities burgeoning from the railway stops. The tiny trains run constantly, a reminder of a long ago and simpler time.
Circling the tree further out is a homage to every part of the Union, with 50 different trees representing each state of America and several others for U.S. Territories. Each tree is decorated uniquely, with ornaments colored by kids in elementary schools from each state.
And if that didn’t make the scene comforting enough, every evening from now until the end of the holidays, different choirs—typically elementary, middle, or high school students—perform carols at the base of the tree.
The atmosphere can put anyone in the holiday spirit, making the National Christmas Tree a charming and beautiful way to enjoy a frigid holiday evening and give yourself a bit of calm during the hectic holiday months.
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