Aldon Nielsen of Springfield, Va., Photographs 50 Years Of National Christmas Trees In Washington, D.C.

5:20 PM, Dec 23, 2012   |    comments
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SPRINGFIELD, Va. (WUSA) -- A Springfield, Virginia man has never missed seeing the National Christmas tree once in the last 50 years.

Aldon Nielsen, 90,  remembers that it was 1963 when he drove his family from Denver to Washington, D.C.

"I packed up the family to see it for the first time," he said.

He loaded the car with his four children.

"I didn't have a tripod in those days," he said.

So he set the camera on his car to get a steady shot of the tree.
For the next 49 years, it would be an obsession.

"It became interesting to me. I went back the next year and pretty soon I was addicted. I wanted to see the decorations and all the technology," Nielsen said.

All those changes would bring complications in his new-found hobby through the years.

"In 1963, they used to just decorate the tree like you would in your living room. Everything stood still. They they started with the lights that twinkled and that fouled up the still pictures," he said.

Nielsen doesn't have a favorite, but he says this year's tree is the most symmetrical of the trees he has captured in pictures. Although there's no favorite, it's the stories behind the trees.

American hostages were in Iran between 1979-80. President Carter would keep the tree dark, except for the top light, for two years until the hostages were freed, to  honor the hostages.

"President Reagan turned the lights on for 444 minutes for each day that they were held hostage," he said.

He also remembers 1995 fondly, when President Clinton footed the electric bill when the government was partially shutdown.

The National Christmas lighting tradition started 90 years ago in 1923 when President Calvin Coolidge was in office and when Nielsen was just a year old.

Nielsen has been attracted to the tree ever since that first trip from Denver to the Ellipse.

He's been taking pictures  since long before the National Park Service thought about doing it and so Nielsen's work is displayed on the NPS website.

"It's been quite a journey,"he said.

The National Park Service has come to expect Nielsen the day after every lighting ceremony.
But Nielsen is passing on the tradition to his youngest son Brian.

Nielsen turns 91 next month.He would love to the make a coffee table book out of his photos.

Nielsen and his wife moved to Greenspring retirement community in Springfield, Virginia in 2003.  He has become the 'unofficial-official' resident photgrapher for the community.  He takes photos for the monthly newsletter and volunteers operating cameras for the community's television studio.


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