DC Mythbusting: Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

Photo courtesy of
‘Christmas in Washington – 090’
courtesy of ‘giantminispacegoat’

Welcome to a holiday edition of Mythbusting! This week we’ll be figuring out exactly what is going on with the Christmas trees in DC. How many National Christmas Trees are there? There’s the one outside the Capitol and the one outside the White House, but are there more “official” Christmas trees in our federal city?

Yes, there are! There are three official national trees in our fair city: the Capitol Christmas Tree in front of the Capitol. the National Christmas Tree near the ellipse at the White House, and the White House Christmas Tree inside the Blue Room of the White House. Read on to find out the difference between these trees, where they came from this year, and which one is a DC native!

Photo courtesy of
‘Capitol Christmas tree – 72/365 – 12/8/09’
courtesy of ‘vpickering’

Capitol Christmas Tree
This is the cut tree that sits in front of the Capitol on the Mall side. The tradition started in 1964, when the Speaker of the House requested a national tree. A tree was purchased from a nursery and decorated, but it died after three years. Ever since, cut trees have been trucked in to the Capitol. These days, the trees are provided by the National Park Service, and are generally over fifty feet tall.

This year’s tree is 85 feet tall and comes to us from Arizona. The Arizonans were so excited about their gift to the Nation’s Capital that they started a blog to chart the tree’s progress, made over 6,000 ornaments to decorate the tree, and played a big role in the lighting ceremony a few weeks back. The Capitol Christmas Tree will be on display until January 1.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘cruffo’

National Christmas Tree
Here’s a tree that’s probably been in DC longer than you have. The National Christmas Tree, which sits in front of the White House on the Ellipse, has been living there since 1978. That’s right– it’s a live tree! It’s there year round, but it’s only lit from December 3 to January 1.

The tree stands 30 feet tall and is a Colorado blue spruce. The tree is decorated with lights and surrounded by 50+ state trees (including one for DC!) that are decorated by children from each state. There’s also a yule log and a giant menorah over at the White House, so definitely go check it out before it all shuts down on January 1.

White House Christmas Tree
This is a tree that is entirely different than the National Christmas Tree that sits outside the White House. The official White House Christmas Tree is an indoor cut tree that sits inside the Blue Room of the White House. This year’s tree is from West Virginia and has been hanging out inside the White House since November 27.  The tradition of having a tree in the White House started back in the 1800s, and in 1961 Jackie Kennedy started the tradition of decorating the tree with a singular theme.  This year’s theme is “Rejoice, Reflect, and Renew” and features recycled ornaments from previous administrations.

So that clears it up a little– three different trees, two of them sitting on the same property. But they have three different names (although I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the names misused be the press in several instances) and three different stories.  And there’s only one National Christmas Tree.

Photo courtesy of
‘Union Station Christmas Tree’
courtesy of ‘Mr. T in DC’

There are also plenty of other notable trees around town, like this huge Norwegian-US tree in Union Station, or this one at the Botanic Garden.

One of the greatest parts about living in DC is being able to see this stuff that tourists travel here to see. So take a break from your Christmas shopping and head over and check out these trees (good luck getting Obama to let you in to see the White House Christmas Tree, though apparently it’s not that hard to get in these days…).

Shannon grew up in the greater DC area/Maryland suburbs, went to Virginia for college and grad school (go Hoos!), and settled in DC in 2006. She’s an urban planner who loves transit (why yes, that is her dressed as a Metro pylon for Halloween), cities, and all things DC. Email her at Shannon (at) WeLoveDC.com!

3 thoughts on “DC Mythbusting: Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

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  2. Roll Call did an interesting story a few years back about the competition between NY (Rockefeller Center) and DC (both the National Tree on the Ellipse and the Congressional tree) over who has THE National Christmas Tree. There seems to be alot of jocking over who can light there’s first, and that’s supposed to make it the tree for the country.