1969-1973 National Christmas Trees

1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973

1969 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1969 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

December 16

President and Participants: President Nixon, joined by Mrs. Nixon and daughter Tricia, lit the National Community Christmas Tree at 5:50 p.m. Speaking above the jests of approximately 200 anti-war protesters in the crowd, the President discussed a new decade of peace. [Washington Post, December 17, 1969.] The President spoke of the United States as the richest and strongest nation in the world, while expressing hope for peace at a time of war. Secretary of the Interior Walter J. Hickel; Representative Carleton King of New York, whose state had donated the tree; and Washington, D.C. Mayor Walter Washington also attended the event.

The Tree: Cut, 75-foot Norway spruce from Glens Falls, New York. 9,000 small red and white lights illuminated the tree, decorated with white balls and silver and gold ornaments.

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: The ceremony was carried internationally via satellite. [Evening Star, December 17, 1969.]

Miscellaneous: At about 5 o'clock, before the arrival of the President, U.S. Park Police arrested eight adults and one seventeen-year-old on charges of disorderly conduct. Among them were two ministers. [Washington Post, December 17, 1969.]

As the President spoke, fifty demonstrators from the D.C. Moratorium Committee and the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam shouted, "Stop the War." Some protestors unfurled Viet Cong flags. [Evening Star, December 17, 1969.]

The National Park Service received many letters advising the planting of a living tree for reasons of conservation and environmentalism. [NPS-WHL, RG-79, Box 27, "A8227 Christmas Pageant of Peace, 1/1/69-12/31/70," telegram, October 30, 1969.]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), joined by the American Jewish Congress, sued the Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc. contending that the nativity scene amounted to government sponsorship of religion. The ACLU represented two priests, a rabbi, and a member of the American Ethical Society. They requested an injunction to prohibit the construction of the nativity scene until a decision in the matter had come down. This request was rejected by the U.S. State Court of Appeals, ruling that construction could not be blocked while the case was being decided. The suit was then dismissed on the grounds that no one is harmed by the nativity scene, nor obligated to look at it, and that the nativity scene was intended not as a religious symbol "but as a reminder of our spiritual heritage," its purpose "wholly secular." Although the ACLU appealed that decision, the crèche remained on the Ellipse in 1969. [NPS-WHL, Box 27, "A8227 Christmas Pageant of Peace 1/1/69, closed 12/31/70," unidentified newspaper article, December 13, 1969; Washington Post, December 13, 1969.]

1970 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1970 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

December 16

President and Participants: President Nixon attended the Christmas Pageant of Peace with Mrs. Nixon and daughters Tricia Nixon and Julie Eisenhower. The President delivered a Christmas message saying that the nation could look forward to the end of the war. Then, saying "He's the smallest child here," the President selected five-year-old Andre Proctor of Washington, D.C. from the audience to help him light the tree at 5:42 p.m. [NPS-WESF, RG-79, Box 27, "A8227, Christmas Pageant of Peace 1/1/71," letter, January 20, 1971; Public Papers of the Presidents, December 16, 1970.] Unlike the previous year, there was no heckling from the crowd. [Washington Post, December 17, 1970.] The President said, regarding the war in Vietnam, "We can look forward with assurance to the end of that war." [Washington Post, December 17, 1970.]

The Tree: Cut, 78-foot spruce from South Dakota. The tree underwent many difficulties on its trip from the Black Hills of South Dakota. On the way to Washington the train carrying the tree derailed twice in Nebraska. On the weekend before the event, the tree toppled in the gusting winds and required new branches to fill it out. A few days after the opening ceremony, the electrical sockets that had been coated with fireproofing liquid spray caused the bulbs on the lower half of the tree to explode. [NPS -WPP, "Christmas Pageant of Peace Binders," Washington Daily News, December 19, 1970.]

The tree was decorated with 5,000 blue and green bulbs, and 750-900 yellow bulbs. The tree topper was a tear-dropped-shaped wire sculpture with a bulb encased within it. [Washington Daily News, December 6, 1970.]

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: Lights illuminating the federal buildings between Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues were turned on as part of a program to turn Washington into a "City of Light." [Evening Star, December 17, 1970.]

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir of Salt Lake City, Utah performed.

Outstanding Weather Conditions: Cold, steady, rain [Washington Post, December 17, 1970.]

Miscellaneous: A hearing was ordered to determine if there was substance to the suit brought in 1969 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) concerning the constitutionality of a nativity scene sponsored by the National Park Service.

Organization/Committees: Washington Convention and Visitors Bureau, National Park Service.

1971 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1971 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

December 16

President and Participants: Vice President Agnew stood in for President Nixon who was in Key Biscayne, Florida. The Vice President lit the tree with the help of seven-year-old Gary Morris who was in the crowd. [Washington Post, December 17, 1971.] The Vice President reminded those watching and listening about the many families whose sons were prisoners of war. Speaking of those soldiers and their families, Vice President Agnew said, "This is the eighth Christmas -- the longest period of any war in our nation's history -- that some of us have observed without their loved ones." [Washington Post, December 17, 1971.]

The Tree: Cut, 63-foot Fraser fir from North Carolina. The tree was decorated with red and white lights. The tree-topper resembled a snowflake.

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: A special tree in recognition of the prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action in Southeast Asia stood in front of the National Community ChristmasTree. [Washington Post, December 17, 1971.] This brought the total number of trees on the Pathway of Peace to fifty-seven.

Outstanding Weather Conditions: Warm, the temperature had reached 74º earlier in the day.

Miscellaneous: The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Allen v. Morton held that the National Park Service's participation in the construction of a nativity was constitutional and did not violate the "establishment clause" of the Constitution. The ruling judge deemed the event secular. [NPS-WESF, RG-79, Box - 29, "A8227 -- Pageant of Peace," memo, October 5, 1973; NPS-WESF, RG-79, Box 27, "Christmas Pageant of Peace 1/1/71," letter, March 29, 1971.] In making his decision the judge considered Edward Carr's earlier statement considering the origins of the event: "I must say that the main emphasis was to promote more business for Washington." Similarly, Edward Kirby had said: "The purpose of this...of course, is to increase the volume of business and employment in the metropolitan area and to enhance the reputation of Washington as a tourist and convention center." [Evening Star, November 4, 1971.] The decision was appealed. [NPS-WESF, RG-79, Box -29, "A8227 -- Pageant of Peace 1/1/73," memo, October 5, 1973.]

Anti-war demonstrators, including members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, disrupted the lighting of the tree by shouting "Peace now! Peace now!" No arrests were made.

After years of trying to receive a permit, "Women Strike for Peace" was granted permission to display outside the central circular area exclusively reserved for the Christmas Pageant of Peace on the Ellipse. They did not have enough time to organize a display and therefore did not display. [Washington Post, December 17, 1971.]

1972 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1972 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

December 16

President and Participants: Vice President Agnew lit the National Christmas tree with Secretary of the Interior Rogers Morton. They were aided by young Eric Watt of Camp Spring, Maryland. [NSP-WESF, RG-79, Box 29, "A8227 Pageant of Peace 1/1/73 Pt. 2," letter, October 17, 1973.]

The Tree: Cut, 70-75-foot Engelmann spruce from Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming.

The tree was decorated with 9,000 transparent green bulbs, 1,000 clear twinkling bulbs, and 250 five inch globe lamps. [Washington Post, November 29, 1972.]

Floodlights supplied by the U.S. Army kept the tree illuminated twenty-four hours a day except on bright, sunny days. [NPS-WESF, RG-79, Box 31, "Pageant of Peace 1972," memo, November 20, 1972.]

Local elementary schools took part in a tree-decorating competition on the Ellipse.

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: On December 28, a national day of mourning on the day of President Truman's death, all scheduled pageant performances were canceled. The tree remained lit for security reasons. [NPS-WESF, RG-79, Box 31, "A8227 Pageant of Peace SE -72-72," December 27, 1972.]

Because the American Mining Congress had rescinded its offer to supply state trees from former mining lands earlier in the year, the state of Pennsylvania began to supply the trees. [NPS-WESF, RG-79, Box 31, "A8227 Pageant of Peace SE-72-72," letter, July 19, 1973.]

Miscellaneous: The Christmas Pageant of Peace committee began an effort to expand the Pageant beyond the Washington, D.C. area and make it a more nationally focused event. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1983, File 2," undated note.]*

1973 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1973 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

December 14

President and Participants: President Nixon lit the National Christmas Tree with the help of a Boy Scout and Girl Scout and delivered Christmas greetings.

The Tree: Living, 42-foot Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (1973). Having used cut trees from around the country since 1954, the Christmas Pageant of Peace reintroduced a living tree into the ceremony. The National Arborist Association donated the tree.

The decision to use a live tree was the result of hundreds of letters from individuals and environmental groups around the country requesting that conservation concerns be addressed and the use of cut trees cease. [NPS-WESF, RG-79, Box 29, "A8227 Xmas Pageant of Peace 11/73, Pt. 3," letters, December, 1972 - December, 1973, letter from NCP, October 17, 1973; NPS-WESF, RG-79, Box 29, "A8227 Pageant of Peace 1/1/73, Pt. 2," letter from "Provide for the People," September 19, 1973; NPS-WESF, RG-79, Box 29, "A8227 Pageant of Peace 1/1/73, Pt. 2," letter from National Parks & Conservation Association, September 6, 1973; NPS-WPP, RG-79, Box 31, "A8227 -- Pageant of Peace, SE- 72-72," letters.]

General Electric achieved an overall 81.9% reduction in energy consumption compared to the energy used for the 1972 tree. In order to conserve energy, the tree was decorated primarily with non-energy-using decorations such as garlands and balls. Floodlights at the base of the tree provided light and accented the ornaments. The shift in decorating and lighting was motivated by national concerns for energy consumption and in order to protect the new, living tree. [NPS-WESF, RG-79, Box 29, "A8227, Xmas Pageant of Peace 11/73-12/31/74, Pt. 3," Department of the Interior News Release, November 26, 1973.]

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: Fifty-six live trees representing the fifty states, the District of Columbia, the territories and possessions lined the Pathway of Peace.

Miscellaneous: A U.S. Court of Appeals decision in the case of Allen v. Morton reversed the 1971 decision by the District Court and discontinued the National Park Service's sponsorship of a nativity scene. A three-judge panel ruled the crèche "objectionable to non-Christians." The Department of the Interior appealed and public outcry followed. In response, the National Park Service issued a permit to the American Christian Heritage Association, a private group, to erect its own crèche outside the central area occupied by the Christmas Pageant of Peace. [NPS-WESF, RG-79, Box 30, "A82 -- Pageant of Peace 1974, 1/1/74, Pt. 4," letter, December 17, 1974.]

This was the first year a cherry picker was used to top the tree. Previously the tree had been topped from the regular scaffolding used to decorate the rest of the tree. [D.C. Public Library, Washingtoniana Division, Washington Star Collection, National Christmas Tree -- 1972, 1973 (photographic documentation).]


Last updated: October 22, 2019

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