November 29, 2004

White House Christmas Tree Arrives

WASHINGTON - An 18 1/2-foot Christmas tree, pulled by a horse-drawn wagon, arrived Monday at the North Portico, marking the official start of holiday decorating at the White House.

"They've already removed the chandelier, so this 18-foot tree will fit into the Blue Room," first lady Laura Bush said in receiving the Noble fir tree cut down in Washington state. "Decorators are inside decorating right now as fast as they can. They'll continue to decorate, and they'll be finished by Wednesday, which is the first party."

This year, bright hues are in vogue in the Executive Mansion.

"They'll be everywhere, including the ornaments that will be on the Christmas tree," Mrs. Bush said.

The tree was donated by John and Carol Tillman of Rochester, Wash., named the 2004 National Grand Champion Growers by the National Christmas Tree Association. The Tillman's two children, Rachel and Tyler, rode in the green wagon, pulled by two black horses adorned with red bows.

The tree was selected in October by Gary Walters, White House chief usher, and Irv Williams, White House superintendent of grounds. Two other trees from the Tillmans' farm, called Northwest Plantations, will be placed in the Oval Office and at Camp David.

Presentation of the official White House Christmas tree dates to 1966 during the Johnson administration. That year, the tree was a Balsam fir, grown by Howard Pierce of Sparta, Wis.

Mrs. Bush said she hoped Americans would remember U.S. troops serving abroad during the holidays.

"We were very mindful over the Thanksgiving holidays and we certainly will be over the Christmas holidays of the people who have a loved one serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, or people who have lost a loved one there and who have an empty place at the table at Christmas."

Asked whether she had a gift picked yet for her husband, Mrs. Bush said she had no ideas.

"I'm going to have to think about what to get him for Christmas because he's a man who has everything," she said.