Friday, December 7, 2012

A 90-year tradition: Obama lights National Christmas Tree

Michael Reynolds / EPA
A choir sings during the 90th annual National Christmas Tree lighting Thursday in Washington, D.C.

By Eun Kyung Kim, TODAY contributor

President Barack Obama lit a new National Christmas Tree at a traditional ceremony Thursday outside the White House that officially kicks off the holiday season in the nation’s capital.

The president was joined by the first lady and their two daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, when he led a dramatic countdown before more than 17,000 guests and lit the tree.

Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty ImagesPresident Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, push the button to light the National Christmas Tree on Thursday.

Television and Broadway actor Neil Patrick Harris hosted the 90th annual tree-lighting ceremony, which featured musical performances by Colbie Caillat, James Taylor, Jason Mraz and The Fray. During the ceremony, first lady Michelle Obama read the story "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" with "Modern Family" actor Rico Rodriguez.

Jason Reed / ReutersFollowing a dramatic countdown, the Obama family turns to view the illuminated National Christmas Tree on Thursday.

The National Park Service planted the 28-foot Colorado blue spruce in late October after the previous tree died earlier in the year from “transplant shock.” That tree had been planted on the grounds of the White House in March 2011, one month after high winds toppled the former national tree that had been up since 1978.

Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty ImagesIt's a beauty! The National Christmas Tree is lit during a festive ceremony on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

The tree-lighting ceremony marks the first event in a four-week holiday celebration presented by the National Park Service and its official charity, the National Park Foundation.

Archival photo from National Park Service
Awwww! It's the very first official National Christmas Tree! Back in 1923, President Calvin Coolidge began the tradition of lighting the tree in a formal ceremony.

The Capitol Christmas Tree, which attracts thousands of visitors each year, is part of a larger outdoor exhibit that features miniature train sets and dozens of smaller trees decorated with ornaments representing all 50 states, five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.

Archival photo from National Park ServiceThis archival photo shows the National Christmas Tree in 1947.

The White House tree ceremony, considered a headache by area residents trying to navigate around event-related street closures, is an annual tradition started in 1923 by President Calvin Coolidge.

Archival photo from National Park ServiceThis National Christmas Tree, pictured here in 1978, remained standing on the grounds of the White House until 2011 when high winds toppled it.

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