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This year’s White House Christmas tree was almost abandoned, its grower admits

What it takes to be a White House Christmas tree

First Lady Jackie Kennedy began the tradition of placing a decorated Christmas tree in the Blue Room at the White House. Since then, trees have come from all over the country to the most famous house in America.
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First Lady Jackie Kennedy began the tradition of placing a decorated Christmas tree in the Blue Room at the White House. Since then, trees have come from all over the country to the most famous house in America.

The grower of the 19 1/2-foot-tall Fraser fir that will be displayed at the White House beginning Monday admits he almost abandoned it.

The tree didn’t seem to be doing as well as others on his Mountain Top Fraser Fir farm in Newland, Avery County, Larry Smith told The Charlotte Observer in a phone interview Tuesday night.

“It hadn’t been trimmed the last couple of years,” he said. “I’d basically abandoned it.”

He thought for sure that the two White House officials who surveyed the trees he showed them in September would choose another one, Smith said. But the officials saw something in the tree, he said: “They just loved the natural look to it.”

“It’s going from Herbie the Love Bug to a Bentley,” Smith told the Observer. “It’s like a Cinderella story.”

The officials went to his farm after Smith won “the 2018 Grand Champion designation at the National Christmas Tree Association’s Christmas Tree Contest in Green Bay, Wisconsin, giving him the honor of providing the official White House Christmas tree,” High Country Press reported. It was his fifth try, the Avery Journal reported.

And so, the tree “will arrive by horse and carriage to the First Lady and President on the North Portico, Monday afternoon,” the White House said in a news release late Tuesday afternoon. “The tree will be displayed in the Blue Room of the White House.”

Smith and his family will be on hand to present this year’s “White House Christmas Tree” to President Donald Trump and wife, Melania Trump, according to the White House news release.

“Winners of the National Christmas Tree Association National Tree Contest have provided the official White House Christmas Tree since 1966,” the White House news release said.

According to the White House Historical Association, North Carolina has won the honor more times than any other state at 12, followed by Pennsylvania at 10 and Wisconsin at 8.

Smith, 59, told the Observer that he “set his first trees” in 1977 as a high school senior. He also earned a degree in turfgrass technology at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory in 1979.

The tree selected for display at the White House is 25 to 30 years old, he said.

The tree was scheduled to be chainsawed on Wednesday, placed on a flatbed and then driven by Friday on a tractor-trailer to the White House, he said. He and family members will fly to Washington on Sunday.

Having one of his trees selected as the White House Christmas Tree “is the most prestigious honor” he could ever receive, he said, but also for Avery County, the state and the Christmas Tree Association.

“It’s like winning the Super Bowl,” he told the Observer.

Thinking about how he’d never rated it as highly as others on his farm, Smith told the Observer: “This particular tree got the last laugh.”

Downtown Conway tree lighting on Thursday night kicked off a series of Rivertown Christmas Celebration events. Local residents enjoyed Christmas music, holiday farmers market, Santa visit, and candle light shopping. Two more event nights are plann

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067; @jmarusak
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