National Christmas Tree lights up, Thursday, December 6 (event schedule)

Neil Patrick Harris will host the lighting of the tree with help from James Taylor, Jason Mraz, Phillip Phillips, and President Obama with the First Family. Photo: The Capitol Christmas Tree was lit on December 4 AP

WASHINGTON, December 5, 2012 — A giant, live blue spruce in The President’s Park on the Ellipse, right across from the White House, will once again be the center of the Pageant of Peace at the 90th annual holiday lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

President Obama with his wife Michelle and their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, will flick the switch that lights up the 30-foot tree.

National Christmas Tree in 2011 AP

Then the 56 smaller, decorated trees surrounding the National Christmas tree — representing the 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia — will burst into light as well.

Strung with 450 strands of LED red and green lights and gold stars, this year’s tree is modeled after the original tree that inaugurated the tradition under President Coolidge.

Neil Patrick Harris, Emmy award winning star of “How I Met Your Mother,” will kick off the ceremony at 4:30 p.m. ET. Joining him will be an array of musical talent, including:

* double-platinum band The Fray

* Grammy® winning singer/songwriter Jason Mraz

* Grammy®-nominated singer/songwriter/producer Ledisi

* five-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, James Taylor

* 10-time Grammy winner singer/songwriter/producer Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds

*two-time Grammy® winner Colbie Caillat

* American Idol Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips

* along with a special guest appearance by “Modern Family” child actor Rico Rodriguez.

Santa Claus who has been known to drop by for past Christmas tree lightings, just might make another appearance this year. If you don’t see him on December 6, he will be at his workshop with his elves on the Ellipse until Christmas Eve, when he closes early to return to the North Pole. You can find Santa at his workshop:

Monday - Thursday

4 - 6:30 pm; 7 - 9:30 pm

Friday - Sunday

12:30 - 4:30 pm; 5:30 - 9:30 pm

Christmas Eve

11 am - 3 pm

The entire show, which is hosted by the National Parks Service, will be livestreamed at their website: www.thenationaltree.org.  PBS will broadcast reruns of the ceremony during the next three weeks (see your local TV schedule for details).

Pathway of trees AP

Plan to Come Later in December

If you don’t have tickets, don’t even plan to go. Free tickets were given out weeks ago through a national lottery. Just plan for next year. Besides the congestion will be such a headache that you won’t be able to get anywhere near the lighting.

Streets surrounding the area will be closed off during rush hour, 4:15 to 7 p.m. You just might lose your Christmas spirit in the madhouse that Washington becomes on this night.

Instead wait till the days following the lighting, when all of the trees will be lit from dusk until 10 p.m. through New Year’s Day. Plus there will be musical entertainment on those days as well. Maybe not big name stars, but music from the heart by groups like children’s choirs, the Washington Redskins Marching Band, the Blue Ridge Cloggers, Washington Mennonite Chorus, brass quintets, gospel singers, and even the Girl Scouts. Check out the program website at the National Park Service.

A Long Tradition of National Christmas Trees

The lighting of the National Christmas tree began on Christmas Eve, 1923 with President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace Coolidge. As the U.S. Marine Band played, the President lit the 48-foot balsam from his home state of Vermont in a blaze of red, white and green lights. Some say the fledgling electrical industry is credited with getting Silent Cal to launch the first tree lighting as a way of inspiring Americans to buy Christmas lights for their trees and, of course, use more electricity. Fact or fiction? Who knows.

First National Christmas Tree, 1923

Ever since then, during war and peace, the National Christmas tree has been lit by the President of the United States. In 1954, when President Eisenhower resided in the White House, the tree lighting ceremony became known as the Pageant of Peace and the annual lighting was then moved to early December.

During President Jimmy Carter’s tenure, a live Christmas tree was planted in 1973 to be used down through the years.

For security reasons, during the Reagan administration following the assassination attempt on his life, President Ronald Reagan lit the tree remotely from the East Room of the White House. In 1994 during the Clinton years, a garden-sized model railroad was added under the tree.

And in 2001, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush hosted the children of the victims of the 9/11 attack.

This year’s tree is a youngster, having been transplanted this past October, just before Hurricane Sandy blew through. But she weathered it just fine. This tree is the fifth living tree since the Carter tree was planted, the others either falling to disease or high winds.

To read more about the history of nation’s Christmas Tree, go to the National Parks website.


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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

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