This Christmas celebrates the twenty-year anniversary of the Millennium Holiday Tree, which was harvested from the Pike National Forest in Colorado and blessed by Ute elders on Nov. 20, 2000, during a sendoff ceremony. The 65-foot tall Blue Spruce adorned the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol that year in Washington, D.C.
Howard Richards, Sr., Rod Grove, Austin Box and Russell Box, Sr. attended the ceremony. The blessing of the tree was a key aspect of the sendoff ceremony. The public event was billed as “The Millennium Holiday Tree: Colorado’s Gift to the Nation.”
The ceremonial cut at the base of the tree was made by U.S. Senators, Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Wayne Allard of Colorado, who used a traditional logger’s saw. Attendees gathered in the forest for the occasion, during an unusually cold November morning. Campbell was tasked with driving the truck, once the 77-year-old spruce was cut and loaded onto the flatbed trailer.
Following the formal blessing, the Ute men sang a special song composed by Southern Ute tribal member, Tim Ryder titled, “The Millennium Tree Honor Song” using a traditional hand drum.
Twenty years later, Southern Ute elder, and Vietnam Veteran, Rod Grove remembers the morning like it was yesterday. He holds out a flat ceremonial token in the palm of his hand — the token is made from wood. The tree’s likeness is depicted on the front of the token; the reverse side bears the motto for the Millennium Holiday Tree, “It will stand in front of our Nation’s Capitol as a proud symbol of the richness of Colorado — its beauty, cultures and communities.”