by Toni Pacini
Last Sunday I made my first “Trek to the Nation’s Christmas Tree”, something I had intended to do for several years. The bus ride from Sanger up to the Sierras and into the snow-covered world of Kings Canyon National Park was breathtaking.
Off the bus there was a steady stream of people on the trail; most were quiet, respectful of such a spectacular place. We were all there to visit a 2000 year old tree that stands 267 feet tall. We were there to honor our heroes and celebrate the season. I kept considering the 84 Treks before this one. I found it inspiring that the Sanger Chamber of Commerce had not only taken on this delightful task but had continued to make it happen year after year for 85-years.
I had read the history of our Nation’s Christmas Tree, I had heard the stories, and as I walked the trails that so many others had walked for the same reason, I lived the history that I was now a part of. The story goes like this:
In 1924, two men from the Sanger Chamber of Commerce were meandering through the grove where the General Grant Tree stood, yet unnamed and without exception other than its size and beauty. These two men, Mr. R.J. Senior the President, and Mr. Charles E. Lee the secretary of the Sanger Chamber, paused at the base of this amazing tree. Admiring its beauty and considering all that had passed in our world in the 2000 years that the tree had grown quietly, humbly in that place.
While the men were musing lost in deep thought, a young girl joined them for just a moment and said, as if giving words to a passing thought, “What a lovely Christmas tree that would be.”
With that seed planted in his head, Charles Lee returned to his home and wrote a letter to President Calvin Coolidge. The rest is history, the history of a great country, a beautiful park, one remarkable tree, and the city of Sanger, California, the Nation’s Christmas Tree City.
President Coolidge listened to Charles Lee, one man from a small town, and on April 28, 1925 the General Grant Tree was officially dedicated as the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” by the United States Department of the Interior, under the direction of President Calvin Coolidge.
Thirty years later on March 29, 1956, Congress made this majestic tree a national shrine and on November 11, 1956 Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, a representative of President Dwight Eisenhower, officially dedicated General Grant Tree as a shrine to our nation’s war dead.
On that brisk November day Admiral Nimitz honored our war heroes who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, the brave men and women who gave their lives for our country and in turn, for each of us. Admiral Nimitz honored our nation, the beauty of Kings Canyon National Park, and “one” tree. When we take a moment and look around at the gifts this sweet earth offers we see the importance of “one” tree. That is precisely how one old majestic tree came to be a symbol of our Nation’s pride and our dedication to those men and women who gave their lives for each “one” of us.Last Sunday the Jubilation Singers and the Sanger High School Chamber Singers filled the grove with harmonies of hope, joy and laughter. Sanger’s Mayor Joshua Mitchell, kept his speech brief, respectful of the moment and the diversity of the more than 300 people gathered there. He said, “This place, this tree, placing a wreath to honor our heroes, the beauty, it is bigger than all of us.” I agreed.
There were other thoughts shared by Sanger’s City Manager Brian Haddix, and Chamber staff Jim Baker and Cheryl Ing. Sanger High School NJROTC presented colors, and the Memorial Wreath was placed at the base of our honored tree by Karen Taylor-Goodrich and Dana M. Dierkes from Sierra & Kings Canyon National Parks. Pastor Dan Johnson delivered a Christmas Message.
As the ceremony waned and then concluded, I felt a need to sit a little longer and remember. I am glad I made the Trek to our Nation’s Christmas Tree. Being there can make anyone proud and grateful to be an American and a member of our great community here in beautiful Sanger California, the Nation’s Christmas Tree City and the Gateway to the Sierras.
Make the Trek next year; you will be glad you did.