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Capitol Christmas Tree Glows After Delay in Honor of Bush

Speaker Paul Ryan lights up the ‘People’s Tree’ for his fourth and final time

The Capitol Christmas tree is seen alongside the Capitol Dome after the official lighting in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. (Jerel Flint/CQ Roll Call)
The Capitol Christmas tree is seen alongside the Capitol Dome after the official lighting in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. (Jerel Flint/CQ Roll Call)

As Speaker Paul D. Ryan flipped the Christmas switch for the last time on Thursday, he paid tribute to a man he called a “beacon of joy.”

“This is my fourth and final time leading this event, and each time the tree is more stunning,” Ryan said before lighting the Capitol Christmas tree.

The annual ceremony, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was pushed back out of respect for former President George H.W. Bush, whose funeral closed down the federal government for a national day of mourning.

“We lost a giant in our nation this week,” said Ryan, who has just a few weeks left in Congress after sitting out this election cycle. “It’s a great time to come together.”

Watch: Paul Ryan Flip the Switch One Last Time on the Capitol Christmas Tree

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With the 82-foot-tall noble fir from Oregon’s Willamette National Forest looming behind him, the outgoing speaker put in a good word for his home state.

“I will say we’ve had some pretty nice trees in Wisconsin, so maybe one of these days we can get a Wisconsin tree here,” the Republican leader said.

Helping Ryan illuminate the tree was Brigette Harrington, a 9-year-old whose poem about the natural beauty of Oregon placed first in a contest for school kids and won her a trip to Washington. Members of Oregon’s congressional delegation waxed almost as eloquent about the forests of the Beaver State. 

“Oregonians do lots of things well, and what we do best is grow Christmas trees, and nobody does that better than Sweet Home,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, sporting an “Oregon” baseball cap.

After traveling for thousands of miles, tracing much of the historical Oregon Trail in reverse, the so-called “People’s Tree” arrived in D.C. more than a week ahead of the tree lighting ceremony. It was harvested on Nov. 2 in the pouring rain and arrived on Nov. 26 in a similar fashion.

“Our adventure started and ended in the same way it began,” said Brad Aimone, one of several truck drivers who carried the tree from Oregon.

As the drivers made their way to the Capitol, they fit in a series of pitstops, including a parade in Sweet Home, Oregon. One of the drivers, Fred Hollenbeck, got the chance to meet with Wyden along with his wife and grandson.

“No media, no press. It wasn’t a photo-op. It was just very personal,” Aimone described Hollenbeck’s meeting with Wyden.

While driving through Wyoming, the Christmas tree crew ran into some tough weather and had to wait it out. Exhausted from the day, they chose to push on after the storm rather than delay the next event.

The faces in the crowd were worth it, Aimone said.

“It was, for me, the spirit of Christmas,” he said.

Watch: Pelosi on NC-09, Sage Grouse in Spotlight and CR-unch Time: Thursday in Washington

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Correction Dec. 7, 10:10 a.m. | An earlier version of this story misidentified the driver who met with Wyden.

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