I thought this would be a simple post. Silly picture, a few observations, move on. But like so many things in Washington DC it is more complex than we flatlanders would think. Pictures first:
The tradition began in 1923. Like a lot of things in D.C. this was the idea of a lobbyist, a certain Frederick Morris Feiker who was helping an electrical industry trade group sell the idea of using Christmas lights. It was a temporary tree, and as will be a recurring issue, it was damaged in transit and needed to have extra branches affixed to its lower sections.
The next year "Silent Cal" Coolidge surprised everyone by giving a speech criticising the cutting of live trees for Christmas. Who knew he had that going on in his head? So a live tree was planted and President Coolidge was a sport and threw the switch lighting it up.
Unfortunately the weight and heat of the massive strings of lights tended to cook the early trees, so it was necessary to bring in replacements in both 1929 and 1931. The tree was moved several times over the years and went dark for most of World War Two.
Temporary trees on the Ellipse seemed to be the general rule in the Post War era, with various distractions such as en route train derailments, anti-War protests and so forth.
A living tree was reintroduced during the eco-concious year of 1973. Unfortunately if fell off the flatbed truck in transit and died off by the Bicentennial year of 1976. Jimmy Carter's daughter Amy lit the tree that year, but in keeping with President Carter's" sweater-in-the-White House ethos, it was only lit for a few hours each day. Like so much undertaken during the Carter years, this tree ended badly. It was weather damaged and developed a 45 degree lean!
Time for another new tree. Amy got to light this one as well, but only the top star....the rest were to stay dark until the hostages got home from Iran.
The 1978 tree had a good long run, but in February 2011 it was damaged in a wind storm, its top being sheared off. I assume my picture is of this tree.
A new tree was planted a few months later. Only 25 feet tall and apparently not in as central a location, I missed it entirely. But I have no doubt that the current Administration has statistics that prove it is growing at a fantastic rate.