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W.Va. well represented at Christmas tree lighting ceremony

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A 63-foot-tall West Virginia superstar is the center of attention in the nation’s capital.

On a cold and blustery evening with the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop, a majestic Norway spruce from West Virginia’s mountains lit up the night.

The marching band from Richwood High School serenaded a gathered crowd with Christmas cheer. The state’s congressional delegation, in brief and brisk remarks, extolled the virtues of West Virginia. And a boy from Randolph County described West Virginia’s natural beauty and then hit the “light” button.

This was all at the lighting of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, a time-honored tradition of more than 50 years, during a Tuesday evening ceremony on the West Front Lawn.

“The most exciting thing is the tree, but then to see the people who have followed the tree all through West Virginia. Lots of people from Randolph County and Tucker County. Lots of kids. I keep telling them, you’re going to remember this the rest of your life,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

The 63-foot Norway Spruce came from the Monongahela National Forest and was carried on a specially equipped tractor-trailer to be displayed in communities around West Virginia before reaching its ultimate destination at the U.S. Capitol.

Fourth grader Ethan Reese from Beverly Elementary School in Randolph County had a position of honor because of his status as the winner of the 2023 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree essay contest. He was accompanied by his fourth grade classmates along with a busload of Randolph County 4-H participants.

He also made time for West Virginia media who gathered at the Capitol. His advice to the people of West Virginia: “Have a great time.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., applauded Ethan’s appearance and his sentiments.

“What a job he did. I mean, he made us all proud,” Manchin said after the ceremony. “This is a big time for West Virginia for us to have the People’s Tree here at the Capitol.”

Ethan’s essay is about his family’s connection to the Monongahela National Forest. His great-great-grandfather, Arthur Wood, was one of the first supervisors of the area that became the Monongahela National Forest.

“He was one of the folks who helped rebuild the forest to what we know today, where we’re able to harvest a tree like this for our nation’s capital,” said Ethan’s mother, Amanda, on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

The Christmas tree will now be lit from dusk until 11 p.m. each evening through New Year’s Day. Visiting the tree is free and open to the public.

This is the third time West Virginia and the Monongahela National Forest has provided the U.S Capitol Christmas Tree, which is cut from a different National Forest every year somewhere in the country. West Virginia provided the trees in 1970, which was the first time the Forest Service provided the tree, and again in 1976.

The Capitol Christmas Tree is decorated with 5,000 ornaments by hundreds of kids and volunteers from West Virginia and is nicknamed The People’s Tree.

“I’m delighted to say we made a beautiful selection this year,” said James Kaufmann, director of Capitol Grounds and Arboretum for the Architect of the Capitol.

Meanwhile, West Virginia supplied another Christmas tree for the White House.

The White House Christmas Tree, which is a permanent tree on the White House Ellipse, had died of a disease. So a replacement was needed.

The 42-foot Tucker County tree had been considered as an option for the U.S. Capitol but was rejected for being too short. But it was a great option for the White House.

So for the first time in history, West Virginia has provided both the Capitol Christmas Tree and the White House Christmas tree in the same year.

That tree, called the National Christmas Tree, will have a lighting ceremony Thursday evening on the Ellipse at The White House and President’s Park.