The evolution of the US Capitol Christmas tree

  • The US Capitol began regularly lighting a Christmas tree in 1964.
  • Since then, the tree has grown more than 40 feet.
  • The lights and decorations have changed too.

The US Capitol Christmas tree lighting has been a thing for more than 50 years. Since then, the tree has been through a lot of changes. We looked back at how this tradition – and the tree – has grown.


In 1913, the first Christmas tree was erected on Capitol grounds.

Library of CongressIt was a 40-foot Norway spruce Christmas tree located on the East Front plaza of the U.S. Capitol.

Though the tradition of a tree lighting ceremony started much later, a Christmas tree was placed on the Capitol lawn before that, a tradition that started in 1913 with a “community Christmas” in Washington. The 40-foot Norway spruce was accompanied by a nativity scene and a choir.

It happened again in 1914, but was then suspended for budget cuts.


In 1964, the first official Christmas tree was decorated.

Wikimedia Commons/USCapitolIt was 24 feet tall.

House Speaker John W. McCormack apparently suggested toJ. George Stewart, architect of the Capitol, that there should be a Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. Thus, one was planted and a tradition was started. It began with a relatively modest 24-foot tree.


The same tree continued to be decorated for a few years.

Wikimedia Commons/USCapitolThe 1966 tree was a 24-foot Douglas Fir from Buddies Nurseries in Pennsylvania.

That same tree – a 24-foot Douglas Fir from Buddies Nurseries in Pennsylvania – was meant to stay on the lawn and be re-decorated each year.


Unfortunately that tree was damaged in 1967.

Wikimedia Commons/USCapitolA ceremony was held each year.

A severe windstorm in 1967 caused the tree to die in 1968.


In 1968, a new tree was brought in.

Wikimedia/USCapitolThe 1968 tree.

The 1968 tree was a 30-foot White Pine from Finxburg, Maryland.


In 1969, another new tree was brought in.

Wikimedia Commons/US CapitolThe 1969 tree.

The 1969 tree was a 40-foot White Pine from Westminister, Maryland.


In 1970, the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service provided a tree.

It was a 40-foot tree from the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service has provided the trees ever since.


In 1972, the tree hit 50 feet.

Wikimedia Common/US CapitolThe 1972 tree.

The 1972 tree was a 50-foot Balsam Fir from Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee.


From 1974 to 1976 it shrunk back down to 41 feet.

Wikimedia Common/US CapitolThe 1975 tree.

The 1975 tree was a 41-foot Balsam Fir from Ottawa National Forest in Michigan.


In the ’80s, the tree hovered around 50 feet.

Wikimedia Common/US CapitolThe 1981 tree.

The 1981 tree was a 50-foot White Spruce from Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan.


In 1990, the tree hit a whopping 65 feet.

Wikimedia Commons/US CapitolThe 1990 tree.

The 1990 tree was a 65-foot Engelmann Spruce from Routt National Forest in Colorado.


In 1995, House Republican freshmen had a news conference at the tree.


In the late ’90s, the Capitol Christmas tree was renamed the “Capitol Holiday Tree.”

The 1996 tree was a 75-foot tree from the Manti-LaSal National Forest in Utah.

It’s unclear exactly when the name “Capitol Holiday Tree” was introduced.


In 1998, people enjoyed the Christmas tree in shorts.

The temperatures reached the 70s in December, according to the AP. The tree that year was a 50-foot tree from the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.


In 2004, the tree came from Virginia for the first time.

Reuters PhotographerThe 2004 tree.

The tree was a 70-foot red spruce tree from the George Washington National Forest in Highland County, Virginia.


In 2005, the name changed back to the Capitol Christmas Tree lighting.

The name change was apparently a directive from then-House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, according to the Washington Times.

The 2005 tree was a 60-foot tree from the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico.


In 2006, the tree appeared to be redecorated with blue Christmas lights.

Wikimedia Commons/US CapitolThe 2006 tree.

The 2006 tree was a 65-foot Pacific Silver Fir from Olympic National Forest, Washington.


In 2008, the tree soared to 70 feet.

The 2008 tree was a 70-foot Subalpine Fir from Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest.


In 2013, the tree featured handmade ornaments.

The 2013 tree was an 88-foot Engelmann spruce, from the Colville National Forest in Washington State.

The theme was “Sharing Washington’s Good Nature.”


In 2014, the tree stood in front of an under-construction Capitol building.

The tree was a giant 88-foot tree from Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota.


In 2017, the tree was 80 feet tall.

The tree was chosen from the Kootenai National Forest in Montana.

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