North Carolina has now sent 14 fresh-cut trees to the White House since the tradition began in the 1960s, surpassing every other state.
The selection of the official White House tree has nothing to do with politics. Growers first compete in a contest in their home state or region, then go on to the National Tree and Wreath competition sponsored by the National Christmas Tree Association.
This year’s contest was held in West Jefferson, North Carolina, in August.
The contests are held every two years, with the current and following year’s winners selected at each gathering.
Growers take trees to the contest to be judged by industry officials and consumers. Entries must be between 6 and 8 feet tall, cannot be artificially colored or flocked or have any branches or limbs that are wired, tied or inserted in any fashion.
Trees are judged on attributes such as color, shape, fullness and needle texture.
Once a grower is named National Grand Champion, White House staff travel to a field of the farmer’s choice to pick the exact tree. This year’s tree, grown by Peak Farms of Laurel Springs, is a Fraser fir that stood about 20 feet tall in the field, assuring that when the trunk is trimmed, the tree will reach the requisite 18.5 feet.
After it is cut, the tree is trucked to Washington, D.C., then delivered to the White House by horse-drawn carriage. There, it’s installed in the Blue Room, where it may be seen by thousands of holiday visitors.
A boost for the tree’s grower
Grower Rusty Estes and his family went to Washington the weekend before Thanksgiving to deliver the tree, and he said they plan to go back and visit again to see it decorated.
To illuminate the tree, workers remove the Blue Room’s chandelier and use the fixture to run an electrical cord down the trunk. Each year the tree is decorated in a different theme. The tree gets festooned with more than 3,500 ornaments and thousands of LED lights.
The White House and grounds are a national park, and the White House Christmas Tree is a gift to the nation from the grower. However, the National Park Service usually purchases additional trees from the same grower to decorate other areas of the White House.
The selection of a tree for the White House can substantially boost a grower’s business, said Joe Freeman, who owns Mistletoe Meadows, another Laurel Springs Christmas tree operation.
Freeman was chosen the Grand Champion in 2007, and said afterward, “Everybody wanted a tree from the place that sent one to the White House.”
On the way to Washington
Before it went to the White House, the 2021 National Christmas Tree was loaded into a tractor-trailer owned by the N.C. Department of Agriculture, which had wrapped the trailer in a giant billboard for N.C. Christmas trees.
A driver brought the truck to a sendoff event at the Ashe County Courthouse in Jefferson, escorted by police and led by Santa and Mrs. Claus in a sled pulled by six ponies.
A loudspeaker on the courthouse steps blared, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
The tree was sent on its way with a blessing by a local pastor.