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National Christmas Tree a living thing

Unlike most of the Christmas trees in the nation’s capital, the National Christmas Tree, located in the Ellipse near the White House, is a living tree.

There has been an outdoor Christmas tree at the White House since 1923, when First Lady Grace Coolidge approved it. (The official White House Christmas tree is the indoor cut tree in the Blue Room.)

Official White House portrait of Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge, who chose the site for the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse when she was first lady from 1923 to 1929, Shown with her is her dog Rob Roy. (Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report)

In 1924, after President Calvin Coolidge gave a speech criticizing the cutting of trees for Christmas, he lit a living tree on the Ellipse. The tradition of a living National Christmas Tree was born, although the tradition was interrupted by the use of cut trees for some years, and several trees planted as the National Christmas Tree have died. Living trees have been used since 1973.

The current tree, a 28-foot Colorado blue spruce from Virginia, was planted as the new National Christmas Tree in October 2012, shortly before Hurricane Sandy. The tree had been shipped to Washington, and National Park Service horticulturists decided that the tree was safer in the ground than in the container in which it had been shipped.

It was lit this year on December 6 by President Barack Obama and his family. Fifty-six trees — one for every U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia — surround the National Christmas Tree.

The area, known as the Pathway of Peace, is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through January 1. A model National Christmas Tree Railroad chugs around the base of the tree.

Concerts are held daily on a nearby stage. (See schedule at link below.)

▪ National Christmas Tree
▪ 2013 National Christmas Tree Music Program
▪ National Christmas Tree Association