Technically, the Speaker of the House is supposed to light the Capitol Christmas tree. But as Paul Ryan pointed out, he’s brand new at the post.
“I’ve never done this before, so I’m going to need some help, and I’d like to have Anna come up here to help me please light this tree,” Ryan said, on a drizzly evening.
A 10-year-old in a fluffy blue dress and elaborate braids came into the spotlight, on the lawn to the West of the Capitol dome. Anna DeVolld of Soldotna, after a countdown, made it happen. The soggy masses cheered and the Army band burst out “O Tannenbaum.”
Anna earned the honor by winning an essay contest about the tree, judged by Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The home-schooled fifth-grader handled the media scrum after the lighting ceremony with poise beyond her years.
“I was feeling very excited and I just couldn’t wait to turn it on,” she said.
Anna, her parents and her little sister, Sarah, are in the midst of whirlwind tour of Washington, courtesy of the corporate sponsors who delivered the tree 4,000 miles from the Chugach National Forest. And, Anna says, the fun’s not over yet.
“We’re going to see a whole bunch more things, like some of the Smithsonians,” she said. “We haven’t gone to those yet. (And the) Spy Museum.”
Her mom, Shona DeVolld, says it didn’t come as a complete shock that Anna’s entry won a statewide contest.
“Anna worked so hard on her essay, draft after draft after draft after draft,” her mom said. “She worked so hard on it, and it turned out so beautifully that in some ways I wasn’t surprised.”
Sen. Murkowski says she was impressed by the symbols Anna found in the tree. Her essay says its lights represent the aurora borealis and its towering height the mountains of the 49th state.
The tree is decorated with thousands of LED lights and Alaska-made ornaments.
Anna and Sen. Murkowski slipped past the fence and the tree’s security detail to hang the very last one themselves. Murkowski says it came from a Homer woman named Susan who was selling ornaments at a holiday bazaar. Susan told the senator she was crushed that she submitted an ornament for the Capitol tree but for some reason it was rejected. Murkowski took matters into her own hands.
“And I said, ‘how about if I place your ornament on the tree?'” Murkowski recalled. “And she gave me an ornament and it is now hanging on the tree and we took a picture of it. And Susan will know that hers is hung in a place of honor on the Capitol Christmas tree.”
This is the first time the Capitol tree has come from Alaska. The trucker who brought it the whole way, John Schank of Fairbanks, watched its lighting from a special spot, next to the congressional delegation, Gov. Bill Walker, and Anna’s family.