Happy Holy Day from our nation’s 2000-year-old Christmas tree in Sequoia National Park
A Very Merry Christmas to YOU!! Happy Hanukah!! A Blessed Kwanzaa!
May you find joy and peace in the practice of your traditions this wonderful holiday season!
In celebration of these days held sacred by so many millions of people around the world, I bring you a message from a silent witness to our progress over the past 2,000 years – the General Grant Giant Sequoia Tree in Sequoia National Park that is our Nation’s Christmas Tree. Almost 27-stories high (just under 270-feet) and approximately 100 feet around, the second largest sequoia on earth was named our National Christmas Tree by President Calvin Coolidge in 1926.
I love the story of how the tree came to hold this place of honor. It brings back memories of the maxim I learned in Sunday School all those years ago growing up in Jamaica – “a little child shall lead them…”
According to the National Park Service, it started in 1924 when Mr. R.J. Senior, president of the Sanger Chamber of Commerce was visiting the park. The Chamber’s website shares the great story:
“Mr. Senior was wandering through the Grant Grove area when he approached a huge tree, stopped, and stared in awe at the enormous tree. As he stood looking at nature’s masterpiece, a small girl approached.
“After a moment of complete silence she said, mostly to herself, ‘What a lovely Christmas tree that would be.’
“She then turned and ran off into the grove. They never learned her name, but they couldn’t forget her words.
“The following Christmas, Senior, Lee, and some friends trekked over what was then a snow covered dirt road to the park. They placed some flowers beside the tree and held a short service.
“Upon returning home Lee wrote a letter to President Calvin Coolidge. Four months later, on April 28, 1926, the president adopted Lee’s suggestion and officially designated the General Grant Tree as the Nation’s Christmas tree.”
In 1956 Congress declared the General Grant Tree a National Shrine on March 29, 1956. At a special ceremony at the base of the tree Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz representing President Dwight Eisenhower, officially dedicated the tree as a perpetual shrine to our nation’s war dead.
The tradition continues today, as the Park Service places a ceremonial wreath at the base of the tree each Christmas season, dedicated to the men and women who have died in service to our country.
The Sanger District Chamber of Commerce and the City of Sanger organize a trek to the tree on the second Sunday of each December, complete with transportation. This year more than 200 visitors braved brisk temperatures and trails coated in snow from a recent storm to be treated to choral music, a wreath presentation and the reading of a letter from President Barack Obama. For many people the visit to the tree is an annual tradition spanning many decades.
At this moment in our country’s evolution when we seem torn on so many sides, I leave you with the reminder of our Nation’s 2000-year old Christmas Tree and the common legacy it represents. Colonel John White, an early Park Superintendent, expressed it perfectly many years ago:
“We are gathered here around a tree that is worthy of representing the spirit of America on Christmas Day. That spirit is best expressed in the plain things of life, the love of the family circle, the simple life of the out-of-doors. The tree is a pillar that is a testimony that things of the spirit transcend those of the flesh.”
At one point sequoias were prevalent all around the world. Now the last few remaining stands are found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the coastal plains of California. This Christmas I thank God for our ancestors who had the foresight to protect them for perpetuity in Sequoia, Yosemite and Redwoods National Parks.
God bless you! God bless us all.