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Here comes Sugar Bear

Robert Hudson Westover
Office of Communication

Graphic of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree 2021, Six Rivers, Many Peoples, One Tree.  Graphic has a large Christmas Tree in the center, a river flowing in front and a mountain range behind.
The official seal for the US Capitol Christmas Tree for 2021. The tree is a gift from the Six Rivers National Forest in California. (USDA Forest Service.)

When a fir tree is as tall as an eight-story building – 84 feet high to be exact – it really needs a name. So that’s exactly what the Six Rivers National Forest did by unofficially naming the massive U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree “Sugar Bear.”

A year in planning and now harvested, Sugar Bear has been prepped and is on a 3,500-mile journey to Washington, D.C.  Carefully wrapped on an elongated trailer bed, the massive fir will arrive on Capitol Hill Nov. 19 to a great deal of fanfare. Once unwrapped, water will gush as a giant plastic bladder, used to keep the tree hydrated on its long journey, is punctured.

For a moment everyone stares at the instant waterfall and for just a moment you can almost imagine you’re in the forest from where this tree was harvested.

After the speakers and press have departed, the Capitol Grounds and Arboretum team will use a crane to hoist the fir tree onto the West Front Lawn of the Capitol building and into its enormous “tree stand.” Later in the afternoon, and the following few days, thousands of ornaments collected from children throughout California will be placed on the tree by a crew of workers using very long polls and a crane.

A picture of a large crane standing up the cut Capitol Christmas Tree.
A bear of a tree. The sky scrapping US Capitol Christmas Tree is harvested and on its way to Washington, DC. Nicked named Sugar Bear the giant fir will arrive at the base of Capitol Hill on Nov 19. (USDA Forest Service photo.)

All of this leads up to the big night when Sugar Bear will be officially illuminated as part of a 51-year tradition that will include the Speaker of the House and members of the California Congressional Delegation. The flip of the switch will be made by Michael Mavris, a fifth grader from Del Norte, California, who wrote a winning poem about the tree. A very fitting end to a long journey for a tree named Sugar Bear.

The skyscraping conifer will make a glimmering and stunning contrast with the west-facing white marble facade of the Capitol until January.

The Forest Service has provided what has become known as “The People’s Tree” since 1970. Towering on the West Front Lawn of Capitol Hill, tourists often mistake the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree with the National Christmas Tree that sits on the Ellipse just south of the White House. The big difference is, well, big. For instance, the White House’s National Christmas Tree, lit by the First Family, is a living fixed tree about 47 feet tall, whereas the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree can hover, once the star is installed, at nearly 90 feet in height.

Another big difference is the ornaments. The White House’s National Christmas Tree has a series of handmade ornaments representing each state created by artists selected for the honor. However, the U.S. Capitol tree’s decorations, also all handmade, are created by hundreds of kids from the state hosting it, thus giving it the nickname the People’s Tree.

A picture of a person dangling from a crane's cable examining the top of the Capitol Christmas Tree.
Dangling high in the sky a worker prepares the massive 84 foot US Capitol Christmas Tree for harvest. The tree, nicked named Sugar Bear, will begin its journey to Washington, DC on Oct 29 and will arrive on Nov 19.  (USDA Forest Service photo.)