National Howl-iday Scene, Part VI: President’s Park

Pathway of Peace 2013

Tavish beholds the National Christmas Tree from the Pathway of Peace in President’s Park. The national tree has been illuminated by GE since 1963–originally with thousands of incandescent bulbs and now entirely by eco-friendly LEDs. The lighting design changes each year.

Intrepid Pup Tavish has been in dogged pursuit of the best of the national howl-iday scene. In Christmases past and present, he’s sniffed out “Season’s Greenings” activities at the U.S. Botanic Garden, Christmas at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, yuletide preparations at The Biltmore, and much more (see the blog index for the others).  His next stop? The National Christmas Tree!

The tree lives year-round on the grounds of President’s Park, 82 acres maintained by the National Park Service and encompassing the White House itself. For much of the year visitors take little note of the evergreen on the Ellipse, but come December, it becomes the focal point of the park. Fitted with a mantel of LED lights, the tree is officially turned on by the President during a televised ceremony complete with a concert.

Tavish in President's Park with the 2012 National Menorah

Lighting of a national menorah was a tradition begun by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 in nearby Lafayette Park. The 30-foot menorah was incorporated into the President’s Park festivities in 1987. Here’s Tavish in 2012 on the final night of Hanukkah.

President Franklin Pierce is credited with putting up the first Christmas tree inside the White House in 1856, but it wasn’t until 1923 that President Calvin Coolidge lit a national tree outside for the benefit of the American people. For more than 90 years, the storied tradition of a national Christmas tree has continued. Early on, the ceremony took place either on the White House lawn or in nearby Lafayette Park, and various trees were designated as the “national community Christmas tree.” During WWII a national tree was decorated but never illuminated. When the ceremony permanently moved to its existing location on the Ellipse in 1954 to better accommodate crowds, the National Park Service began annually cutting and transporting a tree to the site. By the early 1970s, however, they returned to having a planted tree, and there have been 5 since. The long standing 1978-2011 tree was removed after irreparable storm damage. Its replacement lasted only a year before succumbing to transplant shock. The current National Christmas Tree—a 28-foot-tall Colorado Blue Spruce—was planted in October 2012.

Just as the trees have changed, so too has the pageantry at President’s Park evolved. Various elements have been added, such as a menorah (1987), a model railroad (1993), and Santa’s Workshop (2008); others have fallen by the wayside like the Yule Log (2012) and live reindeer. Performances by local choirs and musical groups occur nightly (except Mondays) following the initial tree lighting ceremony and continue all the way up until Christmas Eve. What has remained a constant since first introduced on the Ellipse in 1954 is the Pathway of Peace, a walkway lined by cut Fraser Firs to flank the National Christmas Tree each December. The Pathway now contains 56 tree representing all 50 states, plus Washington, DC, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each is decorated with distinctive ornaments handmade by schoolchildren and artisans from that region.

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38°53′41.57N,  77° 2′10.98W
The National Christmas Tree
, President’s Park, Washington, DC
Annually, early December to January 1 ( site is accessible 10 AM – 10 PM)

National Tree 2013

The 2013 National Christmas Tree with the White House in the background.

President’s Park ranks a “1” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter for being relatively easy to get to and for providing a unique experience once you’re there. If you’re coming with your dog, plan on doing some walking as you can’t bring your pup on the Metro system. Metered street parking is available, though, and we’ve found that it’s usually a little easier to find a space in the blocks west or north of the White House. Timing your visit for during the week or early in the evenings also helps.

Leashed dogs are permitted on the grounds of the National Christmas Tree, and admission is free—no tickets or reservations are required. Be forewarned, however, that there are typically large crowds, which aren’t always every pup’s cup of tea. If your dog doesn’t like getting jostled or is otherwise prone to claustrophobia, simply forgo walking along the Pathway of Peace; you can still enjoy the tree lights from afar from various vantage points throughout the Ellipse. It’s also been our experience that visitors are so busy looking at the tree that they’re not necessarily looking down and may even be startled to see a pooch in their midst. For your and your dog’s comfort, we recommend visiting at an off-peak time. If you’re going at night, consider adding something reflective so your pet stands out and is visible to other passersby (Tavish’s Chilly Dog® jacket has reflective piping, and he sometimes wears his Nite Ize® SpotLit blinking LED collar light, too). Your best photo ops will come a bit away from the fray, where the Pathway leads south from the tree and opens up onto the Ellipse. With the tree and the White House as your backdrops in the middle distance, you also won’t be holding up throngs of foot traffic to get that perfect shot!

National Howl-iday Scene: Part IV

montage of Christmas at Mount Vernon images

Tavish revels in “Christmas at Mount Vernon.” From the greenery adorning the entrance gates to the themed decorations within, George Washington’s estate is a festive place to be all the way through the holiday season. The Intrepid Pup posed in front of the one of several lavish Christmas trees and drooled (literally) at seeing the elaborate display of gingerbread houses. He even had a few friendly licks for Mount Vernon’s dog-loving plantation manager whom he met on the grounds!

If you’ve been a longtime follower of the Intrepid Pup, you might recall that Tavish originally introduced you to dog-friendly Mount Vernon in IntrepidPup.com’s first-ever blog post.  Now, Tavish returns to George Washington’s historic home on the banks of the Potomac River for Part IV in his round-up of the best of the DC metro area’s national “howl-iday” scene. (Visit the index to find the other spots that made the list)

“Christmas at Mount Vernon”  is celebrated annually at the estate from late November through the first week of January. To the authentic artifacts and educational experiences that already draw nearly 1 million visitors a year, Mount Vernon adds special activities for the holidays. You can watch costumed interpreters explore historical foodways by making chocolate, view a gingerbread display depicting a half dozen of Mount Vernon’s buildings, and find richly decorated Christmas trees throughout the orientation center and museum.  The rarely-seen third floor of the main house is open to visitors, and there are designated evenings prior to Christmas for candlelight tours.

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38°42′29.65″ N,  77°05′07.67″ W
Christmas at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens, Alexandria, Virginia

Christmas at Mount Vernon runs from late November through early January; check website for exact dates each year.

Tavish with Aladdin the Christmas Camel at Mount Vernon

“So, how long are you here?” Tavish shares a moment with Aladdin, the five-year old camel who puts in a guest appearance each year especially for “Christmas at Mount Vernon.”

 

As we’ve noted earlier, Mount Vernon does permit leashed dogs. While dogs do need to enter and exit via two public buildings, they’re otherwise instructed not to linger inside and understandably are not allowed at all in any of the historical structures.

There’s plenty to do on the 500-acre grounds—even in wintertime—and there are two things in particular to seek out that can only be seen during the six weeks encompassing “Christmas at Mount Vernon.”

The first is the camel. Yes, you read that correctly. George and Martha Washington used to welcome hundreds of people to their estate each year and were purportedly the consummate hosts. Records show that at Christmastime in 1787, Washington paid 18 shillings for the thrill of having a  “Christmas camel” come to Mount Vernon to entertain his holiday guests. This tradition has been kept alive in the present day through Aladdin, a real live camel. Aladdin’s regular home is on a Virginia farm with other exotics, but for six much-anticipated weeks a year he’s the celebrated guest at Mount Vernon. On the morning of our visit, Aladdin was contentedly sitting in his outdoor enclosure. Mount Vernon’s plantation manager was also on hand giving a short spiel. Then a large and very excited group of Cub Scouts arrived and peppered him with questions. What we gathered from this fairly humorous exchange is that Aladdin is five years old—very young in camel years—and quite tame. No, he isn’t the same camel that Washington met(!), nor is he a descendant from that camel. Camels are used to cold nights in their natural desert habitat, so Aladdin is not bothered in the least by December temperatures in Virginia. He doesn’t spit, since apparently that’s a learned behavior. Oh, and his best friend is a zebra. The plantation manager caught sight of Tavish and noted that Aladdin is comfortable around dogs, so he invited the two to make an acquaintance. Tavish was clearly intrigued, and he and Aladdin peered curiously at one another through the fence.

Tavish with Cobbler and Gobbler

Tavish maintains a respectful distance from the presidentially-pardoned turkey, Cobbler and his buddy Gobbler.

The other highlight to find is the turkey. Mind you, this isn’t just any turkey. This year it was Cobbler, who was officially pardoned by President Barack Obama as the National Thanksgiving Turkey in a White House ceremony on November 21, 2012. As part of the deal, Cobbler and his pal Gobbler greet the public throughout “Christmas at Mount Vernon” and then live out their retirement with other heritage breed animals as residents at Mount Vernon’s nationally recognized livestock facility. Tavish wasn’t nearly as keen on checking out the turkeys as he was the camel. Maybe it had something to do with Cobbler and Gobbler being pretty vocal and fanning their plumage, but Tavish elected to give them a very wide berth.

“Christmas at Mount Vernon” earns a “2” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter, because just mentioning a dog, a camel, and a White House turkey in one breath sounds like some comedian’s opening line, right? Seriously, though, how many places can you witness such an unusual and historical combination for the holidays?

National Howl-iday Scene: Part III

Tavish at the LDS Temple's Festival of Lights

Even raindrops can’t keep Tavish from basking in the glow of 600,000 lights at the Washington D.C. Temple.


Tavish the Intrepid Pup
continues on the howl-iday trail throughout the greater Washington metro area.  Stops so far have included the Capitol Christmas Tree and the  U. S. Botanic Garden’s “Season’s Greenings.”  Next on his itinerary:  the annual Festival of Lights at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The site is a study in juxtapositions. Called the Washington D.C. Temple, it’s actually physically located in Kensington, Maryland. The maelstrom that is the Capital Beltway is just a stone’s throw away with more than 250,000 vehicles a day passing in the Temple’s shadow. And yet the Temple sits upon 52 beautifully wooded acres—in the midst of a residential neighborhood, really. The glistening facade of white Alabama marble looks like nothing else in the area, but it still manages to blend in harmoniously.

When it opened in 1974 it was only the 16th operating Temple; today there are  more than 140. Six spires rise to 288 feet, making this Temple the Church’s tallest. While the adjacent Visitors’ Center is free and open year-round, visitation soars during the annual Festival of Lights celebration.

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39°0′56.07″N, 77°3′56.21″W
Festival of Lights, Washington D.C. Temple – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Kensington, Maryland

The 35th Annual Festival of Lights runs  from November 30, 2012 through January 1, 2013 with the lights coming on at dusk. Free concerts are offered nightly in the Visitors’ Center at 7pm and again at 8pm, with tickets available 90 minutes prior to each performance.

Tavish at the LDS Temple's Festival of Lights

Tavish gazes upon the life-sized crèche outside the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center.

Team Tavish had the misfortune of timing this visit with a torrential downpour, so we didn’t stay nearly as long as we would have liked. The up-side to the weather, however, was that all 600,000 lights looked extra-spectacular reflecting off the drenched pavement.  Tavish wasn’t too keen about getting rained upon but kept still long enough for a few photos as we gawked at the lights and stopped at the life-sized crèche.

Admission to the grounds is free. Non-Mormons are not permitted in the Temple itself, but all (well, excluding dogs) are welcome in the Visitors’ Center. When we arrived, crowds of people were streaming in to hear the first concert of the evening and see the displays of decorated Christmas trees and more than 100 nativity scenes from around the world. Had the Intrepid Pup not been with us, we would have ventured in as well!

The Festival of Lights earns a “1″ on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter for illuminating the joys of the season!

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National Howl-iday Scene: Part II

Tavish with the holiday lights at the US Botanic Garden

“Season’s Greenings” from the U.S. Botanic Garden! The colorful holiday lights outside merely hint at the wonders that lie within.

Throughout this series, Tavish the Intrepid Pup has been providing an insider’s guide to the national “howl-iday” scene. In his quest to find the most iconic—and dog-friendly—holiday spots the capital region has to offer, Tavish’s “pick of the day” is the annual Season’s Greenings display at the United States Botanic Garden. The institution falls under the auspices of the Architect of the Capitol. Dating to 1850, it has been in its present location on the wedge of land between Maryland Avenue and First Street, S.W., since 1933.

Okay, let’s just start by saying this place is beautiful year-round and is especially so during the holidays. In a city chock-a-block full of monumental and famous structures, it’d be easy to lose this one in the mix. But to do so would be a big mistake. The Botanic Garden takes the lead on horticultural education and issues of sustainable landscape design. With elaborate outdoor terraces and indoor habitats ranging from desert succulents to exotic orchids, there’s something for everyone. Not too be missed is the unique perspective from atop the canopy walk in the tropical rainforest that grows within conservatory’s 93-foot dome. And be sure to check out the magnificent Bartholdi Fountain set upon two acres of rose gardens just across Independence Avenue.

Tavish under the kissing ball at the US Botanic Garden

Will sit for kisses: Tavish has strategically planted himself beneath the mistletoe on the northeast terrace.

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38°53′17.90″N, 77°0′45.46″W
United States Botanic Garden’s “Season’s Greenings”, Washington, DC

Season’s Greenings is on display from late November through early January; check website for exact dates. Admission is free.

Pups aren’t allowed inside the Botanic Garden’s buildings, but fortunately you can lap up pretty good views of Season’s Greenings by peering through the conservatory’s picture windows after dark. One glimpse of the Enchanted Forest in the east gallery is enough to make you want to return on your own to explore inside.

Tavish looking at the train display at the US Botanic Garden

Tavish gazes longingly into the “Enchanted Forest,” just one part of the Season’s Greenings display. Model trains, decorated trees, and fairytale lighting make this a feast for the senses.

Planning for Season’s Greenings takes nearly a year, with the Enchanted Forest alone requiring approximately three weeks to install. It shows in the details. A carpet of poinsettias in 17 varieties. A towering 24-foot tree—one of the largest indoor decorated trees in the region. Eight hundred feet of track for the model railway. A line-up of live music on select evenings. And a mind-boggling assortment of DC landmarks created in miniature and entirely from natural plant materials!

Parking out in front of the Botanic Garden or at meters off Independence Avenue shouldn’t prove too difficult after hours. What’s more, it’s a “two-fer”: soak in the splendor of the lighted gardens and then make the three-minute  stroll across the street to take in the Christmas tree on the west lawn of the U. S. Capitol (read the Intrepid Pup’s earlier account here).

A trip to the grounds of the Botanic Gardens earns a “1″ on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter as a free and pretty spectacular photo opp for you and your intrepid pup!

National Howl-iday Scene: Part I

Tavish with the 2012 Capitol tree


GO FIGURE:  Intrepid Pup particularly liked the theme for the 2012 Capitol tree: “The Great Outdoors”! Culled from the White River National Forest in Colorado, this 74-year-old Engelmann spruce made stops in 30 different towns en route to Washington, DC. The tour was sponsored in part by Choose Outdoors, an organization dedicated to connecting Americans to public lands through outdoor recreation. The tree stands 73 feet tall and is laden with approximately 3,000 ornaments, most of which were handmade by Colorado schoolchildren.

With the holiday season comes an explosion of colorful decorations. Elaborate displays crop up in downtowns across America, and for a few short weeks everything takes on the magical luster that only twinkle lights can impart. The Washington, DC metro area is particularly picturesque in December, and the weather is usually still temperate enough that touring around is not a completely frigid proposition.

Over the next several posts, Tavish the Intrepid Pup will give you an insider’s tour of the national “howl-iday” scene, scoping out what are arguably among the most iconic—and dog-friendly—holiday spots the capital region has to offer.

*  *  *

Tavish’s first destination is the 2012 Christmas Tree on the grounds of the United States Capitol.

The original Capitol Christmas tree was a Douglas fir specifically planted on the property in 1964 to fulfill that role. When it eventually succumbed to storm damage, the Architect of the Capitol enlisted the help of the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to sustain the holiday tradition. Every year since 1970, the trees destined for Capitol Hill have been cut and harvested from various national forests. Citizens from the home state supply thousands of handcrafted ornaments showcasing aspects of their state’s heritage, earning the Capitol tree the apt designation as the “People’s Tree.”

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38°53′23.24″N, 77°0′40.19″W
United States Capitol Christmas Tree, Washington, DC

The 2012 tree is on view December 4 – 26, 2012.

While the Capitol tree is one of Team Tavish‘s favorites in the metro DC region, it’s also the most fleeting. The cut tree arrives shortly after Thanksgiving and takes a little more than a week to be secured and decorated before a public tree-lighting ceremony with the Architect of the Capitol and the Speaker of the House in early December.  Thereafter, the tree is illuminated nightly from dusk to 11 pm until shortly after Christmas.

Timed parking on the street and in nearby surface lots makes the Capitol tree readily accessible during the evening hours. The large West Lawn can accommodate a LOT of people before ever seeming crowded, and that truly distinguishes this setting from some of the others on the “howl-iday scene.”  You can get right up close to the tree without being rushed or jostled, and that makes it great for checking out the diversity and creativity of the decorations. This year’s tree is an Engelmann spruce from Colorado, so many of the ornaments depict Colorado wildlife, mining and skiing-related imagery, and symbols from Native American tribes.

On the evening of our visit, construction related to President Obama’s upcoming second inaugural was well underway on the Capitol portico and lawn. . . perhaps explaining why this year’s tree will only be on view through December 26. The 7,000 LED bulbs produce a riot of color, with the luminous dome of the Capitol providing a signature backdrop for photographs.

Tavish was the only dog in sight when we arrived, although a couple more arrived as we were leaving.  Tavish seemed more than content to pose with the tree and sniff at the low-hanging boughs. Remember to keep your dog on-leash (the area is patrolled by Capitol Police) and bring bags to clean up; trash receptacles are located by the gateways on First Street, S.W.

The comparative lack of crowds makes this outing a pleasant one for dogs and humans alike. Combine that with the ability to capture some great holiday photos at a truly unique venue, and this excursion gets a “3” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter.