US Capitol Christmas tree lights up Washington

This year's tree hails from New Mexico.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and representatives from New Mexico lit the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree Wednesday, heralding the holiday season in a traditional evening ceremony that dates back more than 50 years.

Asher Dean, a fourth grader from Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, who won an essay contest to participate in the ceremony, flipped the switch. He was joined by the first family of New Mexico and the state's congressional delegation.

After a 1,500-mile journey -- which began with its harvesting on Nov. 6 and included more than 25 stops across the country -- the massive 60-foot blue spruce from Carson National Forest in Red River, New Mexico, arrived in the nation's capital on Nov. 25 via flatbed truck. A large crane was used to lift it into place on the West Front Lawn.

The Architect of the Capitol's Grounds and Arboretum teams secured the spruce and decorated it with thousands of ornaments handcrafted by children from communities in the state.

This year’s theme highlighted the 75th birthday of the U.S Forest Service's most recognized fire prevention hero, Smokey Bear, who's based off a real-life cub that was found badly burned in the mountains of New Mexico.

Each year, in consultation with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Capitol Architect selects a tree from a different national forest. This year's tree was sponsored by the New Mexico Congressional Delegation, led by Democratic Sen. Tom Udall.

Along with Pelosi, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham delivered remarks at the ceremony, calling it one of the highlights of her first year in office.

"Because this, in fact, is what the holiday season is about: reuniting with your families ... sharing all of our own unique traditions, family spirit, recommitting ourselves to the kind of quality of life and courage that makes a difference in the lives of every single American," Lujan Grisham, a former House representative, said.

The U.S. Army Brass Quintet and singer Chevel Shepherd performed during the ceremony.

The tradition of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree or "The People’s Tree" began in 1964, when House Speaker John W. McCormack, D-Mass., placed a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. The tree lived for three years before succumbing to wind and root damage.

In 1970, the Capitol Architect formally asked the U.S. Forest Service to provide a Christmas tree. The chosen national forest also works with state forests to provide smaller, companion trees for other offices in Washington.

The tree will be lit from nightfall until 11 p.m. each evening through Jan. 1.