President Barack Obama and his family officially marked the start of the Christmas season by lighting the tree in a ceremony just after dark Thursday.
On a stage decorated with white lights and snowflakes, the president, his two daughters Sasha and Malia, First Lady Michelle Obama and her mother Marian Robinson, flipped the switch to light up the 26-foot-tall Colorado blue spruce.
The 26-foot Colorado blue spruce was planted in March on the Ellipse, a park that lies between the White House and the National Mall. Strong winds in February toppled the previous tree, which stood in the park since 1978.
‚ÄúWe all know that this tradition is larger than any single tree,‚Äô‚Äô President Obama remarked. ‚ÄúWe gather here not simply to light decorations but to honor a story that lights the world.‚ÄĚ He later said: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a little smaller than the old tree.‚ÄĚ
Speaking to an audience of hundreds, Obama briefly retold the story of the birth of Jesus Christ and linked the religious leader to his own faith.
“And He grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.
That teaching has come to encircle the globe. It has endured for generations and today it lies at the heart of my Christian faith and that of millions of Americans,” he said.
President Obama also urged the crowd to be generous and to help others in need during the holidays.
“In this season of hope, let’s help those who need it most: the homeless, the hungry, the sick and shut-in,” he said. “In this season of plenty, let’s reach out to those who struggle to find work or provide for their families.”
The lighting ceremony, hosted by TV’s Carson Daly, included performances of Christmas carols and tunes by pop group Big Time Rush, English singer Ellie Goulding, pop band OneRepublic, country singer Rodney Atkins, soul songstress Marsha Ambrosius and the Airmen of Note, a jazz ensemble of the United States Air Force.
Obama welcomed troops returning home in time for the holiday, and asked Americans to express their gratitude to service members.
“In this season of generosity, let’s give thanks and honor to our troops and our veterans and their families who’ve sacrificed so much for us,” he said.
First Lady Michelle Obama gave a lively reading of the “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, alternating each line with Kermit the Frog.
‚ÄúCall me Michelle,‚ÄĚ the first lady said after Kermit the Frog called her ‚ÄúFirst Lady.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs very nice of you,‚ÄĚ Kermit responded. ‚ÄúI have to call Miss Piggy ‚ÄėYour Majesty.‚Äô‚ÄČ‚ÄĚ
Santa Claus stopped by, but he said he was too busy to do media interviews. The annual ceremony on the Ellipse, a park directly north of the White House, is now in its 89th year.
The tradition began with President Calvin Coolidge, who in 1923 lit 2,500 electric bulbs on a 48-foot balsam fir on Christmas Eve. The act took on a more emotional resonance in 1941, when it took place a few days after Pearl Harbor.
At Thursday‚Äôs event, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the audience that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the tradition to help the country feel good during some of its darkest days, ‚Äúas a reminder that we set our faith in human love and God‚Äôs care for us.‚ÄĚ ¬†[via The Telegraph, The Washington Post, Reuters and MSN]