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Cities and counties in the Washington area increasingly are dropping the reference to Christ. Localities such as Alexandria, Greenbelt and Baltimore County will hang their lights on politically correct “holiday” trees.

“The words are used interchangeably,” said Janet Barnett, of the city of Alexandria, which held its tree lighting on Friday. “We put up the trees to celebrate the season.”

In Annapolis, the city’s annual “Hanging of the Greens” — the decorating of public buildings, shops and streets with live greens and ribbons — and the lighting of the “holiday tree” this weekend are purposely named so as to not favor one belief over another.

“It’s a sensitivity for people of different faiths,” said city spokeswoman Jan Hardesty. “We celebrate a lot of different customs — not necessarily just a religious one.”

This year’s Capitol tree, an 80-foot Engelmann spruce from New Mexico, arrived Sunday and was unveiled in a ceremony yesterday. The tree will be secured and displayed opposite the Washington Monument, on the building’s West Lawn and will be decorated with 10,000 lights and 6,000 ornaments created by students in New Mexico.

President Bush will light the National Christmas Tree, which stands south of the White House on the Ellipse, at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Yesterday, the White House also received its Christmas tree for the Blue Room. A horse-drawn wagon delivered the 18-foot Fraser fir, marking the official start of the holiday decorating season at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“This is a very fun tradition, the delivery of the Christmas tree to the White House,” first lady Laura Bush said. “This is the 40th year the National Christmas Tree Growers Association has given the White House the magnificent tree — the biggest tree there.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports