With a few more blasts of the horn than may have been entirely necessary, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt drove the truck carrying the national Holiday Tree its last three blocks to the Gallivan Center on Tuesday.
The tree, a 70-foot Engelmann spruce harvested from Manti-LaSal National Forest, will be displayed this holiday season on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol."As we send this tree and it goes through every state along the way, let it be a symbol to the United States of America that the spirit of Christmas and all its attendant virtues are alive and well in Utah - not for just the last hundred years, but for the next hundred years as well," Leavitt told a crowd of about 200.
Representatives of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve were on hand to accept 100 stuffed toy bulldogs as part of Mack truck company's contribution to the local Toys for Tots program. This is the fourth year Mack has agreed to carry the national Holiday Tree to the Capitol, and the company will give away as many as 1,000 bulldogs at various towns along the route to Washington.
The Salt Lake Symphonic Choir sang Christmas carols at the ceremony in honor of the tree and is scheduled to do the same at the U.S. Capitol when the tree is lighted Dec. 10. Those ceremonies will coincide with the lighting of the Utah Christmas tree - a 30-foot tall blue spruce from Uinta National Forest - at the state Capitol.
A group of students from the Navajo Nation will also make the trip to Washington, as will the designer of a historical reconstruction of the first two trains that met when the transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory Point.
Martin Soholt will accompany Box Elder County's contribution to the national festivities, a scale replica of Central Pacific's Jupiter, Union Pacific's Old 119, and 14 passenger cars - all of which will be arranged around the bottom of the tree on a track to recreate the historic moment in 1869 when East met West.
This is the first time Utah has provided the national Holiday Tree and marks the final event of the year honoring Utah's statehood centennial. Forty smaller Utah trees will also be displayed in the U.S. Supreme Court building, the National Botanical Gardens and offices in the Capitol.
Schoolchildren from all over Utah have been busy throughout the year creating more than 4,000 decorations to adorn the trees.
The tree's circuitous route to Washington will include a stop in Cheyenne, Wyo., and an extended stay in South Dakota, where the spruce will be the focal point of ceremonies in Spearfish, Rapid City, Pierre and Sioux Falls. Next year's national Holiday Tree will be harvested in South Dakota from Black Hills National Forest.
From South Dakota, the tree will be taken to ceremonies in La Crosse, Wis.; South Bend, Ind., Pittsburgh and Allentown, Penn.; and finally Hagerstown, Md.