Golden yellow hoodies dotted the West Lawn of the Capitol Tuesday, and a dark tree stood behind the children and adults wearing them. In the distance one could make out the white blur of the Washington monument through the cold mist that hung in the air.
After speeches from Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., and Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., among others, a switch was flipped and the 88-foot tall Minnesota white spruce glittered for the first time as the Capitol Christmas Tree. "Do you know how many years it takes to grow an 88-foot tree?" Franken asked the crowd of several hundred, using the opportunity to return briefly to his comedic roots. "Neither do I." The tree had traveled more than 2,000 miles from its home in Minnesota.
Hand-made dream catchers, doves with "peace" written on their sides and a cutout of the North Star State with a howling wolf painted inside dotted the trees branches. They, too, came from Minnesota, courtesy of the state's schoolchildren.
Gerald White turned around and lifted his yellow hood to reveal an emblem on his back: "Minnesota" it read.
"It's from our land, the tree," he said, explaining why so many children, teenagers and adults were wearing the sweaters. "We came with the tree, and I guess we're here to just escort the tree here."
There were 135 kids, 30 elders and people from their tribal government, the Ojibwe tribe in Minnesota, he said. They made the trip in five tour buses, the first time for many of them visiting Washington, D.C.
"We're having a good time," White said. Sherwin Obey, who was standing nearby, added that they'd already gotten lost since arriving.
But, while the tree lighting seemed to have a bit more Minnesotans than your average D.C. social event, others had come from a bit closer to see the tree up close.
A group of four women waiting in line to go through security said they had driven down from Massachusetts. (One had faked sick to attend the event, and she hung her head while her friends teased her for it.)
Others came from closer yet — students and professionals in D.C. who had never seen the Capitol Christmas Tree.
"I've never been to the ceremony," said Madison Lichliter, who has one semester left at Georgetown Law, and who was a legal intern this last semester for Rep. George Holding, R-N.C. "It's massive. ... It's a very large tree."
Asked if the school children that White and Obey were chaperoning through D.C. liked the city, they responded with the Minnesota nice that their representatives would soon be bragging about over loud speakers.
"Oh ya," White said contentedly.
"Oh ya," Obey agreed.
The tree arrived on Nov. 21 all the way from the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota. It will be lit every night until Jan. 1, and the tradition goes back all the way to 1964. Related: Capitol Christmas Tree Arrives on the Hill Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Announced Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.