WASHINGTON – Lighting up the chilly night with a resolute flick of a switch, House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Thursday night illuminated this year's Capitol Christmas — not "holiday" — Tree, reinstating its religious title for the first time in years.
Known as the Capitol Holiday Tree since the 1990s, the Engelmann spruce towering over the Capitol's West Lawn became a symbol of the Republican-led Congress's resolve on the matter of holiday wishes. The issue touched the White House when some Christian conservatives expressed anger over the cards they received from President Bush and his wife, Laura, wishing them a pleasant "holiday season."
Hastert, who made clear in a letter last month that he intended to light a Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn, on Thursday flicked a switch that illuminated the 65-foot spruce dressed up with 10,000 lights and 3,000 ornaments. It will shine nightfall to 11 p.m. each day through Jan. 1.
The brightly colored ornaments were crafted by the people of its home state, New Mexico, and strands of energy-conserving LED lights decorate the tree
"Each of these (ornaments) showcases an attribute of New Mexico, including its rich cultural heritage, its history, natural resources and wildlife," said Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman.
Hastert, R-Ill., wrote to Hantman last month urging a return to the tradition of calling the spruce the Capitol Christmas Tree, instead of the Capitol Holiday Tree.
"I fully understand your desire to make all holiday displays as inclusive as possible," Hastert wrote. "There are many ways to accomplish this."
Hantman confirmed Thursday that this year's spruce is indeed a Christmas tree.
As for the White House holiday cards, a spokeswoman for Laura Bush said the first couple wanted to be inclusive and respectful of other traditions.
The tree has been a Capitol tradition since 1964.