O’ Christmas tree

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 20, 2004

Santa Claus was strangely absent.

Though crisp, the morning air seemed too warm for the holiday season that is on the horizon.

But none of that mattered Friday morning when Christmas rumbled into downtown Suffolk on an 87-foot tractor-trailer.

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Hundreds of Suffolk residents, young and old, converged upon the Suffolk Seaboard Station and Railroad Museum as the Virginia-grown National Holiday Tree made a two-hour stop in town. The tree, on the second leg of a 34-city tour through the state, ultimately will grace the front lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

The 70-foot red spruce, handpicked by the capitol architect last July, came from the George Washington National Forest in Highland County. The tree was lifted by helicopter from the forest and loaded onto a custom-made trailer on Nov. 13.

More than 4,500 holiday ornaments made by school children and civic organizations from around the state will decorate the tree.

It’s the first time a tree from Virginia has been tapped for the national holiday honor, said Janet Munchy, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Forestry. She said thousands of people from across the state have taken advantage of the chance to see it.

Barbara Kea and William Scott, both of Suffolk, said they wouldn’t have missed the tree.

&uot;It’s an awesome thing,&uot; said Kea, looking up at the tree. &uot;I’ve been here for 55 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s a historical moment for this tree to come here.&uot;

It’s one that Elyse Vaughan wanted her 22-month-old daughter, Samantha Vaughan, to see.

&uot;This is an once-in-a-lifetime experience,&uot; Vaughan said, pushing her daughter’s stroller up toward the tree. &uot;We wanted

her to have the opportunity to see it.&uot;

Four-year-old David Valera, perched atop the shoulders of grandfather Eddie Montigny, was as interested in the bright red caboose behind the train station as the tree.

&uot;I love huge trains,&uot; he said. &uot;Now I can tell Santa Claus I got a big tree.

&uot;I like little bears,&uot; he added, whose attention was diverted to the arrival of Smokey the Bear.