U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Begins Journey from California Forest this Weekend

A tribal elder from the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians will bless the tree before it is cut and loaded onto a truck for 4,500-mile, 20-day tour that includes stops in 12 cities from Sacramento to Los Angeles before the tree begins its national tour

SONORA, Calif. (November 1, 2011)—When the sun rises over the chilly peaks of the Sierra Nevada on Saturday, a tribal elder from the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians will bless the giant Sierra white fir that will eventually be erected in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. as the nation’s Christmas tree.

And once it’s cut, the 65-foot tree will be loaded onto a truck for a 20-day tour that includes stops in big cities, small towns and military bases across the country so that Americans from all walks of life can see “The People’s Tree” before it’s set up in front of the U.S. Capitol.

“For the next couple of months, this majestic white fir from the Stanislaus National Forest will be one of the most photographed trees in the world,” said Maria Benech, coordinator of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. “It will stand in front of our Capitol, illuminated with 10,000 lights and nearly 3,000 handmade ornaments as a gift from California and an internationally recognized symbol of the holiday season.”

Special events are being planned throughout the Capitol Christmas Tree Tour, which include everything from parades to outdoor fairs and musical performances by local school choirs and bands. Traditional Native American blessings and gift exchanges are also being arranged in some locations along the tour. One small town, Oakdale, Calif., is even planning a red, white and blue racing pigeon release and performances by local square dancers and a high school jazz band as part of its festivities.

“We’re working with city officials and volunteers across the country to make this tour a memorable experience,” Benech said, adding that the truck that transports the Christmas tree will be surrounded by a 54-foot waterproof banner that people can sign like a giant holiday card to wish their fellow Americans a joyful holiday season.

The tree is scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 28th, while the official U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony takes place at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6th. That’s when seven-year-old Johnny Crawford of Sonora, Calif. will throw the switch that turns on the 10,000 LED lights that illuminate the tree in a ceremony hosted by Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Speaker of the House John W. McCormack (D-MA) started the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree tradition in 1964. This year is only the fourth time in history that California will supply “The People’s Tree.”

But while the cutting of the tree is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, most of the costs associated with transporting of the tree across the country are covered by donations from the business community, including Bosch, Wells Fargo, Black Oak Casino and the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians. This year’s partners also include Mack Trucks and Royal Trucking of Concord, which are providing trucks and drivers to transport the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree as well as 100 smaller trees that will be placed in federal offices throughout Washington.

SkyBitz, another donor, will be using its GPS tracking systems to track the Christmas tree as it makes its way across the country and will post real-time information on the tree’s location on its website.

Volvo Trucks is also providing a truck and driver to transport donated food that is being collected during the California section of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Tour as a gift from the people of California to Gallup, N.M., which suffers from some of the highest levels of poverty in the nation. This year’s non-profit partners include the Pacific Forest Trust and the Sonora Area Foundation.

Volunteers and local organizations are contributing thousands of hours of their time coordinating the tree cutting and transport, making ornaments, and organizing special events in celebration of the tree as it makes its way across the country.

Here’s an overview of upcoming events being planned in connection with the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Tour in California and across the country:

-- Christmas Tree Cutting, Early Saturday, Nov. 5 (Media Only): This year’s U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree will be cut from a remote location in the Stanislaus National Forest and loaded onto a truck in preparation for its California and subsequent national tour. Reporters are welcome to arrive at the site as early as 6 a.m. although the actual cutting will take place around 8 a.m. Access to the site will be restricted to the tree cutting and logistics crews, and the news media.

-- Four County Celebration, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Nov. 5th at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora, “Celebrating Gifts From Under Our Tree”. (This is the first chance for the public to see the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree): The celebration, which is expected to draw as many as 10,000 participants from Lake Tahoe to San Francisco, will be the first and only place that members of the public can see the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree before it is boxed up and prepared for its 4,500-mile journey from Sonora to Washington, D.C. The tree is expected to arrive at the fairgrounds in mid-afternoon. The celebration will feature holiday themed arts and crafts activities; live Cajun, bluegrass, and folk music; food; and more than 70 booths that showcase the food, produce, businesses, activities and hospitality of Alpine, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties. The event is being offered to the public free of charge, including free parking. Kate Wallace and Annie Dahlgren, the winners of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Song Competition, will also be performing their original song, “Peace, Peace, Peace.”

-- Nov. 8th the tree will pass through Oakdale and Manteca, with stops allowing people to sign the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree banner, learn about the tree, purchase memorabilia, and be a part of the Christmas cheer. Oakdale events, slated for 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., include an escort through town with police and fire departments, a Model A Club and American Legion Riders. A red, white and blue racing pigeon release, a mayor’s welcome and performances by a high school jazz band and square dancers are also being planned. The Manteca events are slated from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and include opening comments from the mayor and children’s activities.

-- Nov. 9th the tree will be in Sacramento, arriving at the State Capitol by 1 p.m. Festivities are currently being planned.

-- Nov. 10th the tree will arrive in Modesto at 10 a.m. and Merced by 2 p.m., with stops allowing people to sign the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree banner.

-- Nov. 11th, the tree will be showcased in the Fresno Veterans Day Parade in late morning (beginning about 11:00 a.m.) and will make a stop at the Fresno Children’s Hospital in Madera about 2 p.m. The tree is also scheduled to arrive in Kingsburg between 4 and 5 p.m.

-- Nov. 12th, the tree will be at the Saugus Speedway/Swap Meet in the city of Santa Clarita from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

-- Nov. 13th, the tree will be in Los Angeles at the parking lot of the Autry National Center in Griffith Park, near the Los Angeles Zoo between 9 and 11 a.m. The “Get to Know Student Awards” will start at 11 a.m., including the presentation of ornaments made by the winners for the Capitol Christmas Tree. Since 2000, the Robert Bateman Get to Know Program has worked to inspire youth to discover the natural world, with the Forest Service being one of its partners. Outdoor activities are also planned in the park from noon to 3 p.m. Councilman LaBonge will be presiding.

-- Nov. 14th, the tree is scheduled to make stops in Rancho Cucamonga and Barstow.

Preliminary National Tour Information (Details are still being arranged by volunteers along the national tour route)

-- Nov. 15th, Travel Day.

-- Nov. 16th Gallup, N.M. Activities are being planned for the afternoon in Gallup, including presentations by city officials, a high school choir and a safe trip blessing from a Navajo Medicine Man.

-- Nov. 17th, Gallup, N.M. to Santa Fe, N.M.

-- Nov. 18th, Santa Fe, N.M. to Amarillo, Texas

-- Nov. 19th, Amarillo, Texas to Tinker Air Force Base, near Oklahoma City.

-- Nov. 20th, Tinker Air Force Base to Ft. Leonard Wood, near Waynesville, Mo.

-- Nov. 21st, Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. to Santa Claus, Ind. Children’s activities are being planned for mid-afternoon outside the Santa Claus Christmas Store, which will offer hot chocolate and fudge samples during an event celebrating the arrival of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

-- Nov. 22nd, Santa Claus, Ind. to Cherokee, N.C.

-- Nov. 23rd, the tree is scheduled to be at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds in Cherokee, N.C. from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The day begins with a traditional gift exchange between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wok Indians and will be followed by a musical presentation by the Cherokee Elementary Chorus and Kituwah Language Academy students. Students will also be able to make their own holiday ornaments after the formal event.

-- Nov. 24th, Cherokee, N.C. to Greensboro, N.C. The tree is scheduled to be on display from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. just outside of a seasonal ice skating rink in Greensboro’s downtown area.

-- Nov. 25th, Newport News, Va., Oyster Point City Center.

-- Nov. 26th, Hershey, Penn., Hershey Entertainment Complex.

-- Nov. 27th, Hershey, Penn.

-- Nov. 28th, the tree arrives in Washington, D.C.

-- Dec. 5th, a tribal elder from the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wok Indians blesses a Christmas tree from Stanislaus National Forest that will be erected at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the Native American.

-- Dec. 6th, U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony begins at 5 p.m. at the U.S. Capitol Mall. The event is open to the public.

For the latest information concerning the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Tour, visit www.capitolchristmastree2011.org.

Source: Stanislaus National Forest

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