It wasn’t just Santa Claus who came to town last night, the 88 foot Christmas tree, which will be erected on the U.S. Capitol lawn, made an appearance in Elwood, as well.
The village of Elwood was one of many stops along the route from Chippewa National Forest in north central Minnesota, where the white spruce was chosen, to Washington, D.C., where it is scheduled to arrive on Nov. 21.
Elwood’s holiday lighting celebration is typically held the Friday after Thanksgiving, said Mayor Bill Offerman. But they chose to incorporate the arrival of the tree into the annual celebration.
“As long as we had the opportunity of the national Christmas tree,” said Offerman.
The village hall was packed with people enjoying sloppy Joe sandwiches, chips and hot chocolate, kids having their faces painted or getting photos and hugs from several costumed characters.
Outside, the Elwood School choir performed Christmas carols while people gathered around a 105 foot flatbed semitrailer and peeked inside windows to see the lit-up tree lying on its side.
Brothers Jacob and Anthony Cline of Elwood, along with parents Dave and Cari Ingram, checked out the tree before going inside to wait for Santa to arrive.
“I think [the tree] is large, cool and awesome,” said Jacob.
Anthony also said it was cool because of how old it is.
Max Higgins had seen the tree earlier in the day at Steven’s Intermediate School in Wilmington where it stopped along the tour.
“It was pretty good, I got to sign my name on it,” he said.
Offerman and village staff teamed up with Wendy Tresouthick, Environment Education Specialist at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and the U.S. Forest Service, among others, to work out the logistics of getting the tree to the Elwood area, Offerman said.
They got the call about two months ago, and Elwood was thrilled to be a part of the tour.
Each year the Capitol tree comes from a different forest, said U.S. Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Tree Project Leader Mike Theune, who is stationed at Chippewa National Forest.
The hospitality from each community along the tour, just half way in so far, has been phenomenal, he said.
“The kids are so excited, full of smiles and laughter,” Theune said. “The response is bigger than I thought.”
Theune and Tresouthick have been excited to work together, one from a national forest and the other from a national prairie.
“It’s important for students to recognize the ecosystems and how we work together,” Tresouthick said. “We are just as excited to see [the tree] as the public.”
This is the third year the non-profit organization Choose Outdoors has worked with the U.S. Forest Service to bring in corporate sponsors to bring the tree on tour, said organization President Bruce Ward, making the cost to taxpayers minimal.
Both Ward and Theune pointed out the tree, referred to as “The People’s Tree,” is placed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, not the White House.
The tree lighting ceremony on December 3 will be hosted by Speaker of the House John Boehner along with someone from Minnesota, said Ward. It will mark 50 years of the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree.
Ward was impressed with the ceremony held in Elwood, particularly the food and toy donations being brought in.
“What I appreciate is the emphasis on Christmas spirit,” he said. “There seems to be a lot of community spirit in this town.”