As he has for 24 of the last 25 years, Chris Botek supplied the 18 ½ -foot Christmas tree that graces the Pennsylvania Capitol Rotunda. The tree was lit by Gov. Tom Wolf and First Lady Frances Wolf last week during an annual tree lighting ceremony.
Botek’s company, Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Lehighton, also has supplied the Christmas tree to the White House Blue Room five times – more than any other grower – under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. It’s a privilege conferred upon the winner of a contest held by the National Christmas Tree Association.
“We won three times and the other two times the growers that won the competition didn’t have a tree big enough for the Blue Room,” said Botek, who provided four Douglas firs and a concolor fir, also known as a white fir, for the White House.
The tree needs to be exactly 18 ½ feet for the Blue Room because the room’s chandelier is removed and lights are run down the tree from the top, he said.
The company began in 1964 on a small, abandoned dairy farm in Lehighton that Botek’s parents bought and transformed into a Christmas tree farm. But its roots go back even further.
“We’ve been selling and working with Christmas trees since the 1940s when my grandfather sold them at the grocery store he owned in Lansford,” Botek said.
Botek oversees a thriving family business that sells about 15,000 conifers a year to individuals and garden-supply stores from Washington D.C. to Connecticut year round. He has one full-time employee and numerous seasonal workers.
While some states, particularly North Carolina, are experiencing a shortage of Christmas trees this year, that is not the case in Pennsylvania, said Botek, who is president-elect of the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association. The supply has not bounced back since the Great Recession when many large Christmas tree growers went out of business. It takes eight to 10 years to grow a Christmas tree.
Crystal Spring grows about 15 varieties of conifers, but some are better suited for landscaping. The tree in the Capitol Rotunda is usually a Douglas fir because they tend to grow big.
Botek delivers the trees to the state Capitol and White House but does not install them. Delivery to the White House involves a bit of protocol.
“You meet in front of the White House and the tree is brought in a horse-drawn wagon. You come down the steps out of the White House and present the tree to the First Lady and she accepts it,” Botek said.
“It’s just such a neat experience to be able to do that,” he said.
He met former First Lady Michelle Obama four times and Laura Bush once.
Crystal Spring supplied 11 Christmas trees to the state Capitol this year, including a 23-foot tree outside on the Capitol steps and a 15-foot tree across the street in Soldiers’ Grove.
The Rotunda tree will be lit daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., while the trees at the Capitol steps and Soldier’s Grove will be lit daily from 5 p.m. to midnight. All the trees will be lit through the week of Jan. 7.