• 'The People's Tree'

  • A lifelong resident of Independence, Sara Ballantyne had never attended the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the Square.

    Until Saturday.


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  • A lifelong resident of Independence, Sara Ballantyne had never attended the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the Square.
    Until Saturday.
    Ballantyne spent the afternoon glancing inside the Square’s holiday-decorated storefronts before she and several family members set up lawn chairs at 3:30 p.m. for the ceremony.
    Ninety minutes earlier, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree had rolled into Independence, the trucks parking at the corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue two hours ahead of schedule. According to city of Independence and Jackson County officials, this is the first time since the tradition started nearly 50 years ago that the tree has visited Independence – and quite possibly, anywhere in the Kansas City area.
    Less than three weeks ago, the 74-year-old tree was harvested from the White River National Forest, Blanco Ranger District near Meeker, Colo., and Independence was among the several dozen stops before the tree reaches Washington, D.C., later this month.
    Ballantyne, like several other first-time Square tree lighting ceremony attendees, came out to see “The People’s Tree,” but just a small portion was visible to the public – and only that portion, the top, could be seen through a thick plastic covering.
    “I’m a little disappointed that we don’t get to see more of it,” Tanya Bausback of Independence said, “but I guess I can understand that it needs to be kept protected and safe.”
    This year also marked the first attendance at the tree lighting ceremony for Tanya and her two children, 11-year-old Kelsey and Nathan, 8. Attendees had the opportunity to purchase a commemorative ornament or sign the banner that accompanies the tree to Washington, D.C., and Nathan signed “Merry Christmas Obama” next to his name.
    “This is the draw,” said Tanya Bausback of the Capitol Christmas Tree and attending the Square’s tree lighting ceremony for the first time. “We wanted to see the tree. We thought it would be pretty exciting to see it here, and then hopefully, when they air it on television, we can say that we’ve seen it here, right up close and personal.”
    The National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony will take place on Dec. 6 with more than 17,000 people expected to attend. The president and his family typically light the tree together, and Colorado residents supplied 5,000 ornaments for the outdoor tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
    “It’s neat to see all of the messages that people have written – that, I didn’t expect,” Tanya Bausback said. “To be able to put your message there and have that go to the Capitol, it lets you put a piece of yourself in Washington, D.C.”
    Ken Coffin is the Blanco district ranger in Meeker, Colo., and the 2012 Capitol Christmas Tree coordinator. He’ll continue traveling with the tree until it reaches Washington, D.C., with former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell driving the truck.
    Page 2 of 2 - “This is kind of an outside-of-the-box project compared to what we normally do, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Coffin said. “It’s just kind of heartwarming to come to a community like (Independence) and see this kind of turnout. People want to see this, and there’s a lot of pride.”
    While the nation’s Christmas tree made this year’s Square celebration unique, several traditions also were present, including Jackson County Mike Sanders reading “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” which he says is an annual tradition in his family, as well. Sanders thanked the many sponsors for the day, including the warm, dry weather.
    “It’s been a beautiful day,” Ballantyne said as the sounds of the American Legion band beginning a new tune filled the Square. “I’m thankful for being in Independence this evening and remembering what we’re thankful for.”

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