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You don’t have to be a German-descended Christian to appreciate a good Christmas tree, and in D.C., such conifers abound. Among the District’s most visible holiday flora, some trees approach Rockefeller Center levels of grandeur, while others wouldn’t look out of place in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Either way, stay cheery out there.
Union Station Species: Synthetic, but resembling a pine tree Height: 32 feet Decorations: Dedicated to painter Edvard Munch, the display features hundreds of “The Scream”–themed ornaments. Lighting ceremony: A Dec. 3 event featuring a (non-Norwegian) Santa Claus, toy donations, carolers and opera singers, and Munch-themed treats Associated traditions: This is the 16th year the Norwegian Embassy has sponsored the display—to the tune of $40,000—as an expression of gratitude to the United States. Gløgg, a traditional Nordic drink, is served.
United States Botanic Garden Species: Douglas fir, from rural Pennsylvania Height: 24 feet (one of the largest indoor decorated trees in Washington, according to the Botanic Garden) Decorations: Standard Christmas fare Associated traditions: Trains! The Botanic Garden’s nearby “fantasy train” display has more than 800 feet of track, and the tree has its own small circuit with its own adorable choo-choo train.
U.S. Capitol Building Species: Engelmann spruce, from the Colville National Forest in Washington state Height: 88 feet Decorations: 5,000 handmade ornaments adhering to the theme “Sharing Washington’s Good Name” Lighting ceremony: House Speaker John Boehner presided over a ceremony on Dec. 3 on the Capitol lawn. Associated traditions: A tree has stood on the lawn each holiday season since 1964. A different national forest provides the tree each year, and the U.S. Forest Service oversees its safe travel to D.C. in an elaborate, cross-country caravan.
Wilson Building Species: Synthetic Height: 8 feet Decorations: The theme, according to a Wilson Building source, is “red and green”—the same as last year. Lighting ceremony: The Wilson Senior High School choir will perform at a Dec. 5 event. Associated traditions: This is the first year the Wilson Building will feature an artificial tree.
White House Species: Douglas Fir, grown by the Botek family of Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Lehighton, Pa. Height: 18.5 feet Decorations: “decorated in honor of military families” Lighting ceremony: None, but was received by First Lady, first daughters, and first dogs after arriving at the White House in a horse-drawn carriage Associated traditions: Perplexingly high levels of controversy. The McKinley administration opposed the practice of installing a Christmas tree in the White House, and late 19th century critics deemed it “un-American.” Various ornaments have provoked dissent, including a 2008 red-and-white striped design that read “Impeach Bush” (it was rejected), and a former FBI agent claimed in a 1998 book that the Clinton Christmas tree was decorated with condoms and drug paraphernalia.
Photos by Jonathan L. Fischer; White House tree photo courtesy the White House