National Forest Foundation

Five Things You Might Not Know About the Capitol Christmas Tree

The National Forest System, History and Culture

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Beginning in 1970, the U.S. Forest Service has provided a tree to the U.S. Capitol to celebrate the holiday season. Learn more about this unique and festive tradition. 

A Different National Forest Provides the Tree Each Year

It is a great honor not only for the National Forest that provides the Capitol Christmas Tree, but for the entire state. From the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina and the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan to the Klamath National Forest in California and the Santa Fe in New Mexico, National Forests across the country have had the opportunity to showcase a tree from their Forest at the Capitol. In 2017, Montana’s Kootenai National Forest is the lucky Forest. 

Photo by James Edward Mills

The 2017 Capitol Christmas Tree from the Kootenai National Forest shortly after it was cut.

>>See the complete list of National Forests that have provided the Capitol Christmas Tree.


The Superintendent of the Capitol grounds Selects the Tree

Each summer, the Superintendent of the Capitol Grounds (currently Ted Bechtol) visits the National Forest that will provide the tree. During his visit he consults with local Forest Service staff in search of the perfect tree. They’re looking for a healthy specimen, a full canopy, a conical shape with dense foliage, a straight trunk and the appropriate height. Size is especially important because the tree needs to fit in the tractor trailer for its cross-country journey. 

Photo by James Edward Mills

The 2015 Capitol Christmas Tree lit on the Capitol Lawn.

>>Learn more about how the Architect selected the 2017 tree on the Kootenai National Forest.


Seventy Companion Trees Accompany the Capitol Christmas Tree from the Forest

Ranging from 6-25 feet tall, the companion trees add a festive feel to various government offices in Washington D.C. 


The Capitol Christmas Tree and Companion Trees Feature Homemade Ornaments from the State

Each year, the state that provides the Capitol Christmas Tree also provides thousands of homemade ornaments, many provided by children. The ornaments decorate the Capitol Christmas Tree as well as the companion trees. In 2017, Montana provided more than 11,000 ornaments (passing the 8,000 goal) as well as 70 originally crafted tree skirts. 


Prior to Arriving, the Capitol Christmas Tree Goes On a Rock Star Tour

Once the Forest Service cuts and packages the Capitol Christmas Tree and companion trees, the trees start on a journey to the Capitol. Depending on the year, the Tree may visit as many 25 communities before arriving in Washington D.C. Each community holds a unique gathering and celebration that provides an opportunity for Americans to see the Tree and wish it well on its journey. 

Photo by James Edward Mills

The 2016 Capitol Christmas Tree en route to Washington D.C. 

Photo by James Edward Mills

Some visitors to the 2016 Capitol Christmas Tree while on tour.

>>Learn more about the tour of the Capitol Christmas Tree


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Ninety percent of American families pull out their wallets and buy their Christmas tree from a lot or a “cut your own” Christmas tree farm. But if you are craving a woodsier Christmas tradition, consider channeling your inner Paul Bunyan and pull out your saw instead. Getting your tree from a National Forest can be a fulfilling and adventurous family outing, but it does require a few extra considerations.

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