The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A short, sad history of the National Christmas Tree(s)

If you watch the National Christmas Tree Lighting tonight, you might notice that the tree looks a little, well, flat. In fact, the 29-foot evergreen is 2 feet shorter than it was in 2013.

“The top came off in a storm last winter,” says National Park Service spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, “but it’s still happy and healthy.”

Since the 1970s, the role of National Christmas Tree has been played by a living tree planted on the Ellipse. Maybe the sudden pressure of celebrity is too intense, because these trees don’t always last much longer than the cut variety.


This 40-foot tree fell off a truck right before being transplanted, probably shortening its life. On its last Christmas, it was so scraggly that the National Park Service spruced it up for its final TV appearance by attaching limbs from another tree.

Co-stars: Richard Nixon and a boy scout.


The 30-foot Colorado blue spruce, donated by a family in Rockville, was toppled by a January storm with 60-mph winds. It was righted only to be knocked down again later that day.

Co-stars: The Carter family.


A ranger found this 26-foot blue spruce tree in the yard of a family from York, Pa. The National Park Service paid $1,500 for the tree, and got its money’s worth. The longest-serving tree in National Christmas Tree history was felled by a windstorm.

Co-stars: The National Menorah, which was inaugurated in 1979.


This 26-foot spruce hailed from New Jersey and died from transplant shock after an exceptionally warm, dry spring, according to the National Park Service.

Co-stars: James Taylor, The Fray, the Obama family.


The National Park Service transplanted the Colorado blue spruce from Virginia just days before Hurricane Sandy. It survived the storm and is ready for tonight.

Co-stars: Tom Hanks, NE-YO, Patti LaBelle and other celebrities.

Read more from Express:

Don’t want a federal monument in your neighborhood park? Tough luck.

Did you know a 5-foot chunk of stone dropped from the Jefferson Memorial in April?

We explored the Smithsonian’s ‘secret’ research and conservation facilities