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U.S. Capitol gets official Christmas tree

By Paul Courson, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) – The official Christmas tree of the U.S. Capitol arrived Monday and will be illuminated at a ceremony on December 4.

Dozens of tourists, Capitol Hill staffers and news crews watched the tree’s arrival along with Stephen Ayers, the Capitol architect. “My job is to officially accept the Capitol Christmas Tree on behalf of the Congress,” he said.

U.S. Capitol crews using a crane hoisted the 73-foot Englemann spruce from a flatbed truck and prepared it for display on the West Lawn.

Once the tree is mounted, U.S. Capitol workers will place ornaments crafted and donated by Coloradans and will string energy-conserving LED-type lights on it.

Ayers said House Speaker John Boehner will preside over the tree’s illumination at 5 p.m. on December 4.

The arrival completes a 21-day, 5,000-mile journey from Colorado’s White River National Forest, where the tree was selected from among many giant evergreens about 40 miles outside the town of Meeker.

Experts believe the tree was just a sapling during World War II and dates to the late 1930s.

After the tree was cut on November 2 and carefully placed on the flatbed tractor-trailer, it made a tour on its eastbound trip to the District of Columbia, with stops in about a dozen states.

A man portraying Santa Claus accompanied the tree the entire way.

“One thing we’ve learned is the smaller the town, the bigger the reception,” he told CNN. “The bigger the town, the less reception. They’re all too busy doing something else.”

The man, who identified himself as Gerald Morris from the tree’s hometown of Meeker, Colorado, said he’s been playing Santa Claus for 56 years.

The U.S. Capitol’s Christmas tree dates to 1964, when then-House Speaker John McCormack helped plant a live evergreen on the West Lawn, calling it “The People’s Tree.” Unfortunately, the tree failed to thrive, and in the years since, the U.S. Forest Service has provided a cut tree that’s at least 65 feet tall.

This marks the third time the chosen tree has come from Colorado.