WASHINGTON – Newly elected House Speaker Paul Ryan attended his first Capitol Christmas tree lighting Wednesday evening. Despite the chilly afternoon and light rain, hundreds gathered on the West Lawn of the Capitol building to celebrate the Alaskan 74-foot Lutz Spruce coming to life.
Stephen T. Ayers, architect of the Capitol, welcomed the crowd with an anecdote of the history behind the Capitol Christmas tree. It was in 1970, after then Speaker of the House John McCormack suggested to Architect of the Capitol George J. Stewart that a yearly tradition of decorating a Christmas tree on the West Lawn of the Capitol be established.
“I’d like to specifically thank all of the dedicated forest service staff both here in Washington and those in Alaska who have helped make this event possible,” Ayers said.
Before starting this official greetings, Ryan invited the crowd to pay homage to the victims of the San Bernardino shooting.
“I would like to have a brief moment of silence now for those who are affected. Please keep the victims and their families in your prayers right now,” Ryan said as he bowed his head in respect of the memory of the victims.
Ryan thanked the Architect of the Capitol and his team, the forest service staff and the people of Alaska on behalf of all of Congress.
“We have raised up this tree for all the country to see and let this tree be a source of warmth for the cold, a sign of good doings. A sign of cheer,” Ryan said.
“I wish you all a very, very merry Christmas and happy holidays,” he concluded, before proceeding to light up the tree.
Ryan was assisted in lighting the tree by 10-year old Anna DeVolld from Soldotna, Alaska. The fifth grader wrote the winning essay for the 2015 Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Contest.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who judged the essay competition, said it is a proud moment for all Alaskans.
“This tree is a symbol of our vast natural resources, of Alaska’s resilient people, and of the natural beauty that defines who we are,” Murkowski said.
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Download photos: CapitolTreeLighting.zip