Protesters erupted into chants of “cease-fire now” during the annual Christmas tree lighting at the Capitol on Tuesday night, unfurling a Palestinian flag.
Four were arrested for disorderly conduct, according to Capitol Police. But the ceremony continued without a pause, as Speaker Mike Johnson joked about the cold and shared his thoughts on the meaning of Christmas.
“In Louisiana we wear shorts and T-shirts sometimes in December,” Johnson said, as temperatures in Washington hovered in the 30s.
Before handing the microphone over to fourth grader Ethan Reese, who won an essay contest and the honor of hitting the switch to light the tree, Johnson spoke about the “reason for the season.”
“This tree represents so much of what makes America great,” Johnson said. “It also signifies, of course, the beginning of this season of Christmas and the birth of the Lord and savior Jesus Christ. His birth is the reason for the season.”
Urging the assembled crowd not to “lose sight of that fact,” the new House leader gave the lighting ceremony a less secular tone than last year, when then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the tree a “symbol of our nation’s strengths of beauty, diversity and unity.”
Culled from the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree is a 63-foot Norway spruce. It is known as “wa’feem’tekwi,” which means “bright tree” in the Shawnee language, and is decorated with more than 5,000 ornaments.
Speaking at the lighting ceremony, Sen. Joe Manchin III said his home state is having a tree-peat of sorts, noting that two other large trees brought to the nation’s capital this year also hail from West Virginia, including the National Christmas Tree at the White House.
Meanwhile, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, high winds had caused that marquee tree to tumble, ahead of its scheduled lighting ceremony on Thursday. Crews had managed to set it upright again by Tuesday night.
The protesters who aimed to disrupt Tuesday’s ceremony at the Capitol were calling on lawmakers to denounce Israel’s siege of Gaza in the war with Hamas. Groups have kept up a steady drumbeat of similar actions for weeks. In October, Capitol Police arrested more than 300 protesters in a House office building.