Each year it’s interesting to get the background story on New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree. Finding out something about the family who donated it and how it was selected is always interesting.
That prompted me to find out more about the National Christmas tree, which will be lit this year on Thursday evening, December 6th.
The tradition of lighting a national tree goes back nearly 100 years to President Wilson, who requested a community tree be placed at the Capitol in 1913. The tree was lit that year on Christmas Eve in front of a crowd of 20,000. By 1923, the site had been moved to what is now the Ellipse and the tree was officially given the “National” moniker.
Though the location of the National Tree changed from time to time, it eventually moved back to the Ellipse where you’ll find it today. The tradition of lighting the tree was interrupted beginning in 1942 when wartime blackouts kept it dark for three years.
Fast forward to 1954 and the initiation of the Pageant of Peace – a wonderful program which continues today. It includes singers, strolling entertainers, choirs, and guest performers (this year you can enjoy the pageant nightly on the Ellipse stage from December 8th through the 23rd). In addition to the National Tree, there are also 56 smaller trees representing each state, territory, and the District of Columbia.
Prior to 1973, cut trees were donated for the Pageant, just as the tree is donated to New York each year. At that point, the idea was to migrate to a permanent living tree. The first two attempts were less than successful (tree number one died, while the second was blown over during a severe storm); however, in 1978 a 40 foot blue spruce from Maryland was donated and transplanted, and still serves as the National Christmas Tree today.
After the lighting ceremony, the National Tree along with the 56 smaller trees along the Pathway of Peace will be illuminated every evening from dusk until 11pm through New Year’s Day.
If you’re going to be in Washington during the month of December, consider taking in the Pageant! While the tree lighting ceremony itself is a hot ticket, you do not need tickets for any of the other nightly events.
Weekday performances take place from 6pm-8:30pm, while weekend performances run from 4pm-8:30pm. For more information, call the National Park Service at 202-208-1631.
Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas.