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Profoundly Festive – USDA Forest Service Christmas Gift Arrives on Capitol Hill

Robert Hudson Westover
Office of Communication

The massive 78-foot red spruce is being lifted by an equally massive crane
The massive 78-foot red spruce is being lifted by an equally massive crane, and it will be put into place midway up the West Lawn. (USDA Forest Service Photo by Tanya Flores)

A 78-foot red spruce tree – affectionately nicknamed “Ruby” – has arrived on Capitol Hill to serve as this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree. Also known as the “People’s Tree,” Ruby will stand in honor on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol this holiday season, serving as a reminder of the public land that has been set aside for all to use and enjoy. Ruby is also an important symbol of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ connection to the mountains of Western North Carolina.

A trailer carrying the capitol christmas tree
The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree has arrived on the Capitol grounds after crisscrossing North Carolina. Once the tree is in place, it will be decorated with thousands of handmade ornaments made by the citizens of North Carolina. (USDA Forest service photo by Tanya Flores).

For 75 years, Ruby grew to maturity on a steep hillside deep in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. Under the care of the Cherokee citizens, Ruby’s parents developed and flourished on these same sacred ancestral lands.

Over time, the great red spruce grew, destined to be one of the most famous trees in America. Ruby faced heavy competition and passed a rigorous selection criteria to ultimately be chosen as the 2022 Capitol Christmas Tree. In fact, a representative from the Architect of the Capitol, the agency responsible for stewarding the landmark buildings and grounds of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., visited the candidate trees in person to assist in the selection to make sure Ruby was the right fit.

With a blessing from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians Tribe, Ruby has followed destiny and is now being properly installed —at center stage; at the base of the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for all the country to see.

The Capitol Christmas Tree trailer transport is parked along with people surrounding it.
Over 2,000 people joined the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree celebration at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site in Manteo, North Carolina, making it the largest community event in decades, according to National Park officials. (USDA Forest Service photo by Cathy Dowd)

Towering at 78 feet, Ruby will stand where many other U.S. Capitol Christmas Trees have stood over the past 52 years. From Alaska to Virginia, and many states in between, the annual Christmas trees provided from National Forest System lands are special. Each tree has represented a different forest and has been selected from a variety of North America’s most well-known species. Ruby is no different.

This year, the massive spruce was provided as a gift from the Pisgah National Forest. This forest has special significance to the Forest Service, as the forest was once owned nearly in its entirety by the Vanderbilt family as part of lands surrounding the vast Biltmore Estate. It was at Biltmore that George Vanderbilt let a young aspiring forester named Gifford Pinchot practice some early experiments in forest management. Pinchot went on to found and serve as the first chief for the USDA’s Forest Service in 1905.

Now that the tree has completed its journey from western North Carolina and is in place, it will be decorated with the thousands of ornaments made by school children and communities from all over North Carolina. The ornaments bring added significance, as each ornament represents a person, a family, or a community that has contributed a small piece of beauty to this year’s celebration.

2022 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Youth Tree Lighter, Catcuce Micco Tiger (Coche), with parents Katie and Catcuce Tiger and brother named Sha-li-gu-gi.
2022 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Youth Tree Lighter, Catcuce Micco Tiger (Coche), with parents Katie and Catcuce Tiger and brother named Sha-li-gu-gi. Coche, age 9, is a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and has ancestry from the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. He gets his name from his dad, which is a Seminole name. Catcuce means ‘Little Tiger', Micco means ‘Leader/Chief’ in the Creek language. (Photo by James Edward Mills courtesy of Choose Outdoors)

Then on Nov. 29, when the seemingly gazillion twinkling gem-like lights are ready to be officially illumined at this year’s lighting ceremony, a specially selected fourth grader named Catcuce Micco Tiger (Coche) will flip the switch.

The 9-year-old is a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. He was chosen for the honor because of his inspiring answers to a questionnaire sent out to children of the Tribe asking them what they thought about Ruby.

“Our family is excited and humbly honored that Coche was selected to be the 2022 Youth Christmas Tree Lighter,” said Katie Tiger, Catcuce’s mother. “This creates the opportunity for Coche to represent the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and to emphasize that the Tribe’s language and customs are thriving in modern times.”

With a glowing star for Ruby’s crown, the tree lighting ceremony marks a splendid moment for our nation’s capital, Cherokee citizens, and all of America. So, if you’re in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 29, and you want to see something profoundly festive, head down to the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, or tune in live at the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Facebook page.