Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

National Christmas Tree Looks like a Space Shot

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

National Christmas Tree Looks like a Space Shot

Article excerpt

IT'S holiday week in Washington. That means it's time for a tradition much loved by many longtime residents: a swing by the White House to see if the National Christmas Tree is still ugly.

New York's got Rockefeller Center, with glamorous decorations and people on skates. We've got a 40-ft. spruce outside on the Ellipse across from the White House that looks as if it's hung with old Yield signs and parts left off the Hubble Space Telescope.

This year's National Christmas Tree experience is a case in point. In what appears to be a nod to defense conversion, the tree features fiber optics with wind-propelled metallic spinners. It's got arc discharge lighting technology and a cobalt-blue tree topper meant to symbolize the universe.

The whole thing is designed "to produce a dynamic perception of depth and motion," according to a National Park Service handout. During the day, it resembles the third stage of a Trident missile with the skin removed. At night it looks more like a flashing 3-D flow chart of the Clinton health-care plan.

Perhaps the civic foundation that decorates the tree feels pressure to be cutting-edge modern in its decor, as a symbol of the spirit that drives America, that put a man on the moon, that enabled Microsoft founder Bill Gates to become the richest man in the world who wears glasses fixed with tape, etc., etc.

The problem is that Christmas is all about tradition. Holiday decorations should look as if Charles Dickens would have used them in his home. Thus most shopping malls, keen to make people giddy enough to buy stoneware garlic bakers, have trees hung with bows, angels, candy canes, and Santas. Few mall displays appear designed by moonlighting spy satellite engineers.

Congress appears to understand this. The Christmas tree at the Capitol is usually far daintier and more prettified than the National Tree near the White House. …

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