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National Christmas Tree Lighting Takes Place Today

President's Park (White House)

National Park News

President George W. Bush is expected to officially light the annual National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse south of the White House at 5 p.m. this afternoon.  

The lighting of the National Christmas Tree, a 41’ 9” Colorado blue spruce, marks the official beginning of a three-week musical event and is a tradition begun in 1923 when President Calvin Coolidge lit the first tree in President's Park on behalf of all Americans.  The 2008 event is presented by the National Park Service in partnership with the National Park Foundation and sponsored by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).  

This year’s event includes a diverse program of traditional holiday music with a dash of Texas swing, Latin rhythm and a little Motown. Onstage performers include Rissi Palmer, one of country music’s most promising young stars; multiple Grammy winner Jon Secada; and popular Nashville singer/songwriter Phil Vassar. Washington-based dance troupe Step Afrika! will perform and the U.S. Army Chorus’s sergeant Steve Cramer will appear as Santa Claus. Rounding out the show will be four-year old singer Kaitlyn Maher, who came to national attention as one of the ten finalists in this year’s “America’s Got Talent” competition.

The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” under the baton of Colonel Thomas Rotondi, Jr. will be this year’s featured service band, with The Enterprise High School Encores from Enterprise, Alabama, providing vocal support to the guest artists as well as solo performances of holiday favorites.  

The lighting ceremony is only the beginning of the three week event. On each night from December 5th through January 1st, the National Christmas Tree will be lit from dusk until 11:00 p.m.  Musical entertainment, featuring performances by volunteer choirs and dancers, will be held nightly on the Ellipse stage starting December 6th and continuing through December 23rd. Weeknight performances will take place between 6:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and weekend performances will occur from 4:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.  

Ticket holders for this year's lighting ceremony are asked to enter the Ellipse at both 15th Street and Constitution Avenue and at 15th and E Streets and are to arrive no later than 3:30 p.m. to clear security.   Non-ticketed guests of the general public are invited to attend and are asked to enter the Ellipse at 17th and E Streets.

All ticket holders and all non-ticketed guests of the general public must pass through Secret Service magnetometers at all entrances and personal items will be searched.  Everyone is advised there may be long lines waiting to enter the metal detectors and thus to allow plenty of time to clear security.  A total of 2,800 tickets for the opening ceremony were distributed to the public on November 1st at the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion on a first come, first served basis.   All 2,800 tickets were claimed on that date. 

As in previous years, guests are reminded that aerosols of any kind, fireworks, firecrackers, animals (except guide dogs), duffel bags/suitcases, backpacks/coolers/thermoses/glass containers, real or simulated weapons/ammunition, knives of any kind, mace/pepper spray and laser lights/pointers are prohibited.  This list may not be inclusive.  Law enforcement personnel reserve the right to prohibit any other items determined to be a potential public safety hazard.   Strollers, wheelchairs and diaper bags are allowed, but guests should be prepared for a search of all items.   

Seasonal displays include a Yule log and a large-scale model train.  For the 14th consecutive year, the National Christmas Tree railroad will provide model trains that surround the base of the National Christmas Tree.  The trains will run from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily through January 1st.  For the first time this year, the seasonal displays will include a Santa’s Workshop sponsored by UL.  The workshop will be open at select times for children to visit with Santa. 

In what becomes the "Christmas Pathway of Peace," the National Christmas Tree and 56 smaller trees – one for each state, five territories and the District of Columbia – serve as the event’s focal point.  All 57 trees will be lit each evening from dusk until 11:00 p.m. and will be lit each night through January 1st.   Sponsoring organizations in each state provide the tree decorations and each decoration is encased in a protective plastic globe to shield it from the weather.         

Every year, GE consumer and industrial designers decorate the tree with thousands of lights designed purposely for this event.  This year’s display is the most energy-efficient display in the history of the event.  The National Christmas Tree is decorated entirely with LED lights, except for the ornaments.  And, for the first time this year, the state trees also feature LED lights.  This is the 46th year GE has donated the design, lighting, and ornaments for the National Christmas Tree, with GE lighting designer Kathy Presciano completing her 14th year as lighting design consultant.  

Many organizations have contributed their services in support of the 2008 event including:  The Johnson Group, Guest Services, Inc., Willard InterContinental Washington, Hilton Garden Inn Washington, DC Downtown, Hudler Carolina Tree Farms, Inc., Hargrove, Inc., Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc., Chef Geoff’s, Capital City Limousine, Sprint Nextel, Musco Lighting, Atmosphere, Inc., Maryland Sound International, Visual Audio Captioning, Inc., FutureView, The Holland Group and Patsko Prompting Services.

For information on the 2008 Lighting of the National Christmas Tree, please visit

For additional information, you may also contact the White House Visitor Center at 202-208-1631 or check the National Park Service website at ,


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