HARRISBURG - It's the first thing you see when you enter the main doors of the Capitol during the holiday season: a 22-foot Douglas fir bedecked with handcrafted ornaments.
Among the snowflakes, Santas, and angels are mice cut from felt, a snowman made of bottle caps, little wreaths topped with buttons, and cardboard stars layered with sheet music.
Most of the ornaments are handmade creations of Pennsylvania senior citizens, invited by the Department of Aging, through local agencies and community centers, to contribute decorations for the tree.
Nestled to one side, on the tall tree's lower boughs, are glitter-covered balls decorated by Irma Coy, 72, of Pittsburgh's Hill District. One, coated thick with gold sparkles, displays the logo of the social-service-providing Hill House, where Coy is a volunteer and former employee.
"I sort of made them like old-fashioned Christmas ornaments that I saw on my own Christmas tree when I was a kid," she said. "But I made them out of Styrofoam, whereas the original ornaments, they were breakable. My mom was always telling me, don't break our ornaments."
The last time she had made Christmas tree ornaments, Coy said, was in grade school, when children at her school would make garlands from the caps of milk bottles.
In all, seniors from the Hill House Association contributed about a dozen ornaments for the Capitol Christmas tree, said Eunice Boyd, director of the senior services program.
"They were really excited to be a part of it," she said. "They do so many different arts and crafts. They enjoy being able to showcase some of the wonderful things they do there."
The tree in the Capitol rotunda and 25 others throughout the complex were purchased for $3,900 from the Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Carbon County, said Troy Thompson, spokesman for the Department of General Services.
It takes time to grow a tree to 22 feet. The rotunda tree was in the Crystal Spring fields for 19 years, and it was probably four years old when it was planted there, said Chris Botek, who owns the farm.
"There's a lot of care and a lot of maintenance," he said. "These are not just trees that are cut in the wild. That tree was grown and left there for 19 years with the purpose of being a large Christmas tree."
Trees from the Crystal Spring farm have adorned the White House Blue Room five times since 2006 and have also decorated the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center, Botek said.
The ornaments on the Capitol tree come from all over Pennsylvania.
There are labels from Philadelphia, Washington County, Mercer County, York County, Luzerne County.
At the Ecumenical Retirement Community in Susquehanna Township, a 15-minute drive from the Capitol, seniors crafted the sheet-music-layered stars on the rotunda tree's lower branches from cardboard that had been peeled open to expose its inner corrugation.
Joyce McKee, 87, said making a decoration for the Capitol brought to mind the White House Christmas tree.
"It was really fun," she said. "I was kind of excited, too, when I found out we were making them for a tree."
Another resident, Naida Huber, 89, said that working on her ornament brought back thoughts of Christmases past.
"You can't live for 80 years and not remember the house full of company and relatives and great-aunts and uncles and cousins," she said.