WASHINGTON – A horse-drawn wagon pulled up to the White House Monday with an 18 1/2-foot Christmas tree that will adorn the Blue Room, marking the official start of the holiday decorating season at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
"Our horses aren't working as a team this morning," Mrs. Bush said as she eyed the restless horse and scanned the tree, which was bound and protruding from the back of a green and red wagon.
The tree was donated by Earl and Betsy Deal and their son Buddy of Smokey Holler Tree Farm in Laurel Springs, N.C.
Gary Walters, chief usher at the White House, and Mike Lawn, grounds foreman, selected the tree at the Deals' farm Oct. 20. The tree for the Blue Room as well as trees for the Bush family's private residence and the Oval Office were cut Nov. 25 and transported to Washington.
This year, the holiday decorating theme at the White House is "All things bright and beautiful." The Blue Room is the centerpiece of the White House decorations. The tree must be 18 1/2 feet tall because a chandelier is removed so the tree can be attached to the ceiling.
"The decorators are in there right now," Mrs. Bush said. "Santa's elves are in, decorating the White House."
The National Christmas Tree Association has presented the official White House tree since 1966.
Members of the association, which represents about 4,500 people involved in the production and sale of real Christmas trees, compete in state and regional competitions to become eligible to take a tree to the national contest. The Deals, who have been growing trees for about 34 years, competed and won the North Carolina contest and then beat 22 other entries at the national convention.
The Deals, who have about 240,000 trees growing on their farm, won the national competition with another Fraser Fir that was between 6 and 8 feet tall — the size popular among homeowners. After the Deals won the national competition, the White House staff members traveled to the farm and chose the trees.
"We had tagged this one, hoping it would be the one picked," Earl Deal said. "This is a dream come true. I think every Christmas tree grower hopes that they will someday provide a tree to the White House, but it's still hard to believe that it will ever happen to you. There is no higher honor in this business."