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Check out the Capitol Christmas Tree, which is way better than the National Tree

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People across the country tuned in to watch the televised National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, but people in Washington, D.C., know that the better tree is two miles down the road at the U.S. Capitol.

"This is more the people's tree," said Ted Bechtol Jr. As superintendent of the U.S. Capitol Grounds, Bechtol has chosen the Capitol tree for the last 15 years. Bechtol is retiring this year, so this tree will be his last.

This year's tree is a 79-foot Engelmann Spruce from the Kootenai National Forest in Montana. It was one of over a dozen different "candidates" that Bechtol had to choose from in the 2.2 million-acre forest.

"I saw it and just liked it right away because it's so bushy compared to a lot of trees," Bechtol said.

The first Capitol Christmas Tree was planted on the West lawn of the Capitol building in 1964. That tree, a 24-foot Douglas Fir from Pennsylvania, was meant to be a permanent fixture on the lawn, but it died in 1968 due to a series of unfortunate events, including a severe windstorm, according to the Architect of the Capitol.

Since 1970, the U.S. National Forest service has had the task of providing the tree. Each year, a different forest is chosen to supply the tree and several candidates are chosen.

Then, the superintendent of the U.S. Capitol Grounds travels to the forest to inspect each candidate before choosing the tree that will be harvested and shipped all the way to Washington, D.C.

"It's a lot of ground and sometimes the candidates are at opposite ends of the forest," Bechtol said. "Sometimes it's a two or three day venture."

So what qualifies a tree to be considered to be the Capitol Christmas Tree? Bechtol says there's a list of criteria.

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"Sixty to 90 feet, the shape of the tree needs to be conical and uniform and good color for whatever the species might be," he said.

It's the work that goes into the tree that makes it "the people's tree."

Hundreds of workers and volunteers are involved in the process of choosing, transporting and decorating the tree, and the communities where the trees are harvested are involved as well.

"We have hundreds and hundreds of children in church groups and all types of different community groups that get to make ornaments for the tree, so it's a lot different than the program for the National Tree," Bechtol said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) will light the tree on December 6 at 5 p.m.

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