Last night marked the 90th annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree that lives just beyond the South Lawn of The White House in an area called President's Park (and more commonly, the Ellipse). Though the tree lighting has been going on for 90 years, this is actually the first lighting for this particular tree. After losing the tree that had stood for over 30 years during a wind storm two years ago, last year's replacement tree died of transplant shock. The tree that was being lit last night was actually only planted on October 27th of this year, and was hit by hurricane Sandy just a few days later.
Photo taken October 31, 2012, post hurricane Sandy.
Though Wendy and I have lived in the DC area for a while now, and last night was the 13th annual tree lighting since we moved here, we've yet to attend the event as ticketed guests. Several years ago we stood on Constitution Avenue and watched from a far, but actually getting into the event has been on my DC bucket list for many years. Though the tickets are free, they are given away through a lottery system and, much like Powerball, we've failed to win no matter how often we play.
Earlier this week I jumped on Facebook and received the following message from a friend who lives in DC.
I have two extra tickets to the national tree lighting ceremony this week (12/6) featuring James Taylor, Babyface, et al. Let me know if you and Wendy want to go. Merry Christmas!
EXTRA TICKETS!!! NATIONAL TREE LIGHTING!!! Sign us up!
I don't work very far from The White House and the entrance to the event, so Wendy met me at my office yesterday afternoon and we headed over to the Ellipse to enjoy the festivities.
Normally I dread all of the street closings that come along with the tree lighting. As a non-attendee it typically means a hellish commute and a very long bus ride. But this year, it meant we could wander down the middle of normally busy streets and marvel at the police officers' beautiful horses rather than worrying about gridlock traffic.
As we approached the gates to the entrance, the Christmas spirit was all around. From a choral group singing festive songs...
...to an acoustic duo playing a holiday medley...
...to this rather amazingly dressed a capella ensemble.
We were some of the lucky ones in the whole ticket lottery having been awarded seated tickets, and therefore we were able to get a bit closer of a vantage point to the main event. As we made our way to the seats we could see the stage, big screen, and tree just waiting to be lit. Though it would start to get colder soon enough, the sun was keeping us plenty warm for the time being.
Really, you can't ask for a more scenic location for an event. With The White House as the stage's primary backdrop, spinning around and looking the other direction gave a spectacular view of the Washington Monument.
As the sun began to set and everyone started to anticipate the First Family's arrival, we could see their lengthy motorcade that would transport them the one block was still parked at the back door of The White House.
We sat with our friend and caught up for a bit while waiting for the show to start. Though it was scheduled to start at 5:00, we think the President and his family were running late as the hosts started to vamp for a little while. Babyface, the first act, actually took the stage prior to the President's arrival, which was contrary to the schedule in the provided programs. The whole event was being recorded for airing on PBS, so the director and producers probably had their hands pretty full behind the scenes.
Once the President arrived. he and his family took the stage and pressed the button that illuminated the UL-sponsored National Christmas Tree. By this time the sun had set, so it was lovely to see the tree all a glow.
The show, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and featuring special guest Rico Rodriguez (Manny from Modern Family), boasted an ecclectic mix of musical acts. From Philip Phillips (American Idol finalist) to The Fringe, and Colbie Caillat to James Taylor, each act did their own rendition of a holiday classic for the energetic crowd. This is one of those situations where I really wish we had a telephoto lens. Our photos could have been way cooler.
After several songs, the First Lady took the stage with Rico Rodriguez to read a Christmas story. The story, T'was the Night Before Christmas, was read quite well. I love that as a Christmas story.
After some additional words from the President, all of the acts joined together on stage along with the First Family and Santa Claus, and sang one final song for the evening.
After the conclusion of the event, we headed toward the exist and enjoyed the beautifully decorated trees and buildings of the Red Cross complex just across 17th Street. I'll tell you one thing, the Red Cross sure understands how to properly hang lights from trees for Christmas.
In all we had a wonderful time. We didn't realize it at the time, but a fellow home blogger, Sarah from House Bella, was actually attending the tree lighting too. She was probably no more than 40 feet from our seats, just one section to the right, but we didn't realize it until we saw her Instagram photos after we left. We're bummed we didn't get a chance to say hello in person. Maybe next time. :-)
I would definitely recommend attending the National Christmas Tree lighting in person at least once in your life. It's not an event you need to try to do every year, but being able to experience it once is a definite item on the bucket list of any fan of Christmas.
Have you ever attended the tree lighting ceremony at The White House? How about the Capitol? Or a tree lighting ceremony in your own home town? Are there any special holiday traditions in your area that kick off the holiday season? We'd love to know what gets you in the holiday spirit.