Christmas Tree Lighting Customs at the White House

Christmas Tree Lighting Customs at the White House

Ever wonder how the White House celebrates Christmas? One way is with a giant, fully-lit Christmas tree.

The White House is, of course, home to the President as well as his family. They are part of a season-long whirlwind of events that bring Christmas to life. One of the most exciting events that kicks off the holiday season in Washington, D.C. is the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

The tradition of illuminating a tree at the White House began in 1923 with President Calvin Coolidge. It is tradition that a tree of great splendor be lit to begin the Christmas festivities not only in Washington, but around the country as well. Once the National tree has been lit, Americans feel that the Christmas season has really gotten started.

In 1978, the tree that is currently lit was brought in from York, Pennsylvania. It is a towering blue spruce that stands 40 feet tall. This tree stands on what is called the Ellipse, the grounds south of the White House. Along with the tree, the “Pathway to Peace” is also lit on the same night. This is a walkway lined with 56 smaller trees. The trees represent the 50 states, D.C. and the five U.S. territories. Although the location of the tree has been moved on and off the Ellipse, that is where the first tree stood and it is where it stands today. The national tree is for everyone in the nation, and this holiday gift towers over the area.

The ceremony, which is now called the Christmas Pageant of Peace is held in early December. The tree remains lit until January 1st. The ceremony is very popular and tickets to see it live are offered via lottery early in November. Famous names come to perform at the stage at the Ellipse. Volunteer acts perform every night through the season. So there’s always something to see.

The only years that did not see a lit tree were from 1942-1944. During World War II, the tree remained dark in observance of the war effort. In 1945, the tradition resumed to great fanfare. The darkness of the war was then over.

Different entities have been asked to provide decorations for the tree each year. Groups from each state contribute ornaments which are then encased in plastic globes to withstand the weather.

The lighting of the National Christmas Tree has become an event that is much anticipated by everyone including school children. President Reagan was the first to invite a child to light the tree along with him and his wife. The child was a terminally ill child who had made a wish through the Make-a-Wish Foundation to be allowed to help light the tree. Every year since, children have been helping the President light the very special tree. The honor is only given to children who have proven their dedication to volunteering for their country in their local neighborhoods. Previous children who have been chosen have worked in their free time to feed and clothe the hungry and homeless.

General Electric has provided the lights for the national tree since 1968. The lights, once screw-in bulbs that had to be replaced manually if they blew out, are now long-lasting LED bulbs. The lights are now more energy efficient and comply with the White House’s request that a more green solution be used for this magnificent tree.

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