On this bike ride I went by the Ellipse in President’s Park (MAP), just south of the White House. It was at this location that the first National Christmas Tree was placed in December of 1923. The tree was a 48-foot Balsam fir donated by the President of Middlebury College in Vermont, and was decorated with 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white and green, donated by the Electric League of Washington. At 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse to light the tree from his native state. Music for this first lighting ceremony was provided by a local choir and a “quartet” from the U.S. Marine Band.
It has now been almost a century since that first National Christmas Tree was illuminated, and the American holiday tradition will continue later today. This evening President Obama and his family will flip the switch for the 92nd annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree. This year’s ceremony is sponsored by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, and will be hosted by actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson. Scheduled performers for tonight’s lighting ceremony include multi Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter NE-YO, multiplatinum-selling artist Steve Miller, and country star Chely Wright along with pop phenomenon Fifth Harmony, Grammy-winning legend Patti LaBelle, pop world duo Nico & Vinz, and award-winning vocal group The Tenors, who will all be performing a collection of holiday favorites.
Santa Claus, who has been known to drop by for past Christmas tree lightings, just might make another appearance this year as well. However, if you don’t see him this evening, he and his elves will be at his workshop near the tree on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12.30 – 9.30 pm through December 21. After that, he and his elves will return to the North Pole to finish getting ready for the big day.
If you don’t already have tickets for this evening, don’t even plan to go. Free tickets were given out weeks ago through a national lottery that closed on October 20th. But even if you can’t be there, you can experience it online live. The pre-show starts at 4:30 pm this afternoon, and along with the lighting ceremony can be viewed live online. Following today’s online stream, the show will also be available anytime on-demand. The event will also air on public television throughout the month of December. For broadcast times, check local listings or the National Christmas Tree Lighting website.
The National Tree and all of the state trees surrounding it will be lit from dusk until 10 p.m. through New Year’s Day. Plus there will be free musical performances each day from musical groups from D.C. and across the country. No tickets are required for the nightly entertainment.
Since the lighting ceremony takes place in the evening and my daily break for a lunchtime bike ride always comes during the day, I was not able to see the illuminated tree on this ride. However, one of the other features surrounding the National Christmas Tree can be seen during the day. That is the National Christmas Tree Railroad. Celebrating it’s 21st year, the National Christmas Tree Railroad is a group of large-scale model trains which are sponsored, constructed and operated by a group of non-paid volunteers who operate the trains in a display around the base of the tree. It is one of my favorite aspects of the display, and makes a trip to see the National Christmas Tree worth it, even during the daytime.