The National Christmas tree is lit by the President of the United States every year. It is from York, Pennsylvania and is a Colorado Blue Spruce. It was on October 20th 1978 that this tree was planted at the Ellipse in Washington D.C. We’ve all seen the Christmas Pageant of Peace, well at least on the telly and the lighting of this tree is a major part of the celebrations. The National Christmas Tree should not be confused with the official White House Christmas Tree which is usually placed inside the white house whereas the National Christmas tree is an outdoor tree.
It was in November 1923 that this tradition of placing an outdoor decorated Christmas tree first began. The District of Columbia public school approached First Lady Grace Coolidge to erect a cut Christmas tree on the Ellipse south of the White House. She agreed and therefore the result was a Christmas tree which was 48 feet high. It was a balsam fir, bought in especially from Vermont and President Coolidge lit it at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve. The bystanders who had gathered to watch the President light the tree named it ‘The National Christmas Tree.’
Now the tree is lit early in December instead of on Christmas Eve. In the Christmases that fell between 1924 and 1953, the Christmas tree traveled all over and around the White House only to come back to the Ellipse in 1954. This time round the location of the tree also found favor with the local businesses and civil groups who organized the Christmas Pageant of Peace there. Smaller tree were placed around the National Christmas tree to represent the 50 American states, five territories and the District of Columbia. This was known as the Pathway Of Peace. The people of Michigan donated a cut tree in Christmas 1954 which was lit by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
It was only in 1973 that instead of using cut Christmas trees a live Christmas tree was planted at the Ellipse. The tree was replaced in 1977 and due to a rather strong windstorm it barely survived a year. In 1978, the current Colorado blue spruce was planted and it stands tall till today, a reminder of the great tradition of successive Presidents lighting it ever since 1923. In 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president, he lit only the star at the top of the Christmas tree in honor of the Americans who were being held as hostages in Iran. Then again in 1980, the tree was lit only for 417 seconds, a second each for each day that the hostages had been held captive.