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DC Christmas Trees, Ranked

Yes, that is an alien spaceship on the White House lawn.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Michael Cohen’s going to jail, everyone’s a-twitter over the coat Nancy Pelosi swung on like a matador cape after she and President Trump went head-to-head in the Oval Office, and Meghan Markle is apparently sporting the wrong shade of nail polish (and, you know, a baby bump), but all these headlines pale in comparison to the real news: It’s Christmas tree-ranking season, people!

That’s right—here in the year of our Lord 2018, in our loud, cranky nation’s capital, we might not agree on much (or anything! ha!), but we sure can throw some sparkly balls on evergreens. But we wouldn’t be the hyper-competitive, type-A Washingtonians we’re supposed to be if we didn’t pit said greens against each other, would we?

So, with great fanfare, I present the 2018 Washingtonian Christmas Tree ranking. (Please keep in mind that this is an entirely subjective list, compiled solely at the mercy of my own mercurial whimsy, and I have no academic knowledge of kingdom plantae or professional horticulture design whatsoever. I just like festive stuff.)

Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

#7: National Christmas Tree

About this tree, I’ll start off with the same thing your overly-polite grandmother would say if you showed her your inner-lip tattoo: Well, isn’t that something! 

This thing is, quite frankly, an aberration. Why is it so triangular, so neon, so, well, un-tree-like? It looks like something the aliens would try to beam us up in. Maybe they’re finally here for Mike Pence!

And this year’s lighting ceremony—I mean nothing political by this, but all I will say is that during President Obama’s final year in office, Chance the Rapper, the Lumineers, and Kelly Clarkson played, while this year we had…the Dominican Sisters of Mary? Make of that what you will.

It has to be some kind of national security violation to have something that bright on the lawn of the White House, right? We may as well put up a huge sign to whatever intergalactic invaders are mobilizing toward Earth at this moment, saying in huge LED lights: “OUR SUPREME LEADER SLEEPS RIGHT HERE.” Tourists, have fun getting your retinas sizzled by this megawatt monstrosity. In the meantime, I will be hiding from that alien bait posing as a tree. I don’t want to be trapped in a pod for lightyears with Pence while we hurtle toward a foreign galaxy.

Photo courtesy of the US Botanic Garden

#6: US Botanic Garden

Deep in the Amazonian vestibules of the garden’s tropic house, where the air lays thick and alive and exotic, bigger-than-your-face leaves sprawl along the dewy glass with the languid drapery of a sleepy jaguar, sits…an evergreen tree.

I have a few questions, the first and foremost being, isn’t this cruel and unusual punishment? To place a cold-weather plant, better suited to a icy peak in some frost-swept tundra, in the middle of what’s basically a steam room? Or is it kind of like a treat-yo-self spa day for said coniferous entity? Like, is this an evergreen’s version of kicking back in a sauna, letting the heat relax your muscles and your mind wander as you avert your gaze from the hairy calves that appear, ghost-like, through the haze across the room?

They should have decorated one of the palms chilling in the back. Why do evergreens get to have all the fun? Members of the Arecaceae family like kitschy tinsel and miniature train tracks and big bows, too! 

Photo by Mimi Montgomery

#5: CityCenterDC

I get it: This tree is aspirational and glittery and luxe-looking. But for all its glam, the CityCenterDC tree is just…a decorated tree. CityCenter DC’s tree is kind of like the dude you date for a bit who wears V-necks and leather jackets and buys bottle service at clubs—really fun and glitzy, but when it comes down to it, you’ll just find yourself with a headache and constantly surrounded by men with slicked-back hair and very pointy shoes. 

Photo courtesy of Union Market.

#4: Union Market

Union Market is the cool cousin that shows up to Christmas fresh off his podcast tour, wiping off his clear-framed Warby Parkers (that may or may not actually be prescription) on his Bonobos flannel before placing them back on to tell you about this really awesome guy he met in Austin who’s brewing his own kombucha out of the back of a solar-powered VW Bus.

That is to say, it’s trendy in the way things are trendy now: hyper-local, minimalist, and industrial, sprinkled with delightful for-purchase nuggets like nut milks or ironically clever birthday cards. So it makes sense this would extend to its holiday decor. You won’t find any infantile choo-choo trains or dorky snowmen staring googly-eyed over their dumb carrot noses here—no, this is a look fit for the most curated of Instagram feeds. A lone conifer, austerely adorned in simple clear ornaments with a retro-chic tree-topper. It’s practically begging to be slapped on the cover of some indie electronic duo’s Christmas single. 

Photo courtesy of the US Forest Service

#3: Capitol Christmas Tree

This bad boy came all the way from Oregon to hang out with us for the holiday season, a situation I’m not sure it’s too pleased about. To leave the land of snow-capped mountain views and crisp Pacific Northwest air for a city that is as ornery and on-pins as DC is right now—well, let’s just say at least we didn’t plop it right in the middle of the Senate chamber. Hopefully it can’t hear the filibusters from the front lawn.

But you have to admit—it does have a serious beauty to it, golden and solid, its statuesque robustness reflected in the solemnity of the Capitol behind. My friends and I have a saying called “the DC jitters,” which we get whenever we drive past the White House or see the Washington Monument from above while landing at Reagan. It’s the rush of realization that we live someplace historic and deeply important, where decisions are made that affect the lives of so many.

It’s nice to be reminded of this, that DC can be beautiful, a thought that becomes lost in the strange mosh pit of today’s politics. I mean, come on, Ted Cruz has a beard and looks like, frighteningly kind of attractive right now—nothing makes sense anymore!

Photo by Mimi Montgomery

#2: Union Station

Ahhh, Union Station—it really is beautiful, isn’t it? It harkens back to a more elegant time, when women traveled in pencil skirts and you never had to sit next to someone on the MARC who was eating a Doritos Loco Taco. Its Christmas decorations only amplify the cinematic grace of the place. Squint your eyes, and you could almost see Bing Crosby sliding out from the lobby’s Chipotle, crooning about snow.

And that tree! What a looker. It’s decorated in partnership with the Norwegian Embassy, and the country’s flags and decorations by a Norwegian artist keep things from feeling too precious, adding a jolt of color to the classic green-and-white combo. At its lighting, a Yo-Yo Ma concert was live-streamed—it’s a good thing I wasn’t there, or else the magic of the entire thing would have made my head explode.

Said magic is almost, almost, enough for me to forget that just a few yards away, the Union Station Chopt, a place I dined many, many times, was shut down due gut-curdling conditions that included a harrowing cockroach infestation. Like I said, almost enough.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

#1: Library of Congress

Ooooooh, this is regal AF. I love the Library of Congress. It takes all the notions of joy nerdy people like us derived from libraries as students (The silence! The dark wood paneling! The rows and rows of books, endless and without limit, all there just waiting!) and cranks up the voltage by about a million. If the Gaston County Library was a haven to me as a 9-year-old, the Library of Congress is like nirvana-meets-Dante’s Paradiso-meets-the Pearly Gates all in one.

So, it goes without saying that this tree holds a place near and dear to me. The only thing more ecstasy-inducing than a library is a seasonally cheerful library. While I love it, I can understand if it seems like a little too much to some. The library can seem a bit self-important, too smugly aware of all the treasures it holds within, the kind of place where you can’t laugh or be irreverent, the kind of place where you feel the need to read War & Peace when all you really want is to pick up Twilight.

But when it all starts to seem too elevated and well, Elite Washington™, just remember this: The library archives tweets, so somewhere under those august marble floors, full of knowing and significance, could sit hardware filled with every single ridiculous thing Kanye West has ever tweeted. Yes, that’s right—dragon energy is in the building. Merry Christmas, indeed. 

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Associate Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She previously was the editorial assistant at Walter Magazine in Raleigh, North Carolina, and her work has appeared in Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Adams Morgan.