President Barack Obama and his family have flipped the switch for the 90th annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree, marking the holiday season in Washington.
Barack Obama was joined by his daughters, Sasha, 11, and Malia, 14, and wife Michelle. All were bundled to shield themselves from the cold December night.
Also helping in the festive ceremony was actor and singer Neil Patrick Harris, who hosted the tree-lighting ceremony
“Merry Christmas, everybody!” the president began. He was wearing a black wool overcoat and a maroon scarf tucked loosely in his jacket. He was then interrupted by Neil Patrick Harris, who said that it was wonderful to see Barack Obama’s daughters out and about.
“It’s wonderful to see you, Mr. President,” he added.
Barack Obama feigned confusion.
“Is it time?” he asked.
“I hope everybody’s ready,” Barack Obama said.
“We gotta do the countdown.”
President Barack Obama and his family have flipped the switch for the 90th annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree
The crowd then counted down from five, before the first lady and her daughters switched on the blue spruce’s magnificent lights.
After the lighting, Neil Patrick Harris continued to banter with the president, and joked with actor Rico Rodriguez of ABC’s Modern Family about joining the Obamas in Hawaii this Christmas.
Singers Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Ledisi, Jason Mraz, Colbie Caillat and James Taylor, along with the band The Fray, performed Christmas songs before a crowd of about 17,000 on the Ellipse, a park that sits between the White House and the National Mall.
The president said in a brief speech he has been inspired by Americans’ response to Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the Northeast in late October. He told a story of a street in Staten Island, where houses and businesses were devastated by the storm.
“A great big Christmas tree shines out of the darkness,” he said.
“A local nursery donated the tree, another business chipped in for lights and a star, and 70-year-old Tom Killeen and his friends planted it at the end of the street, overlooking the town beach.”
“As Tom says, the tree has one message: It’s Christmas time, not disaster time,” the president concluded.
The National Christmas Tree ablaze with white lights and stars, Barack Obama joined the singers on stage in a singalong version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town before heading home, a short motorcade ride away.
This year’s giant blue spruce is new and was transplanted in October on the Ellipse, a park that lies between the White House and the National Mall.
The previous tree died from transplant shock after just a year. Before that, a tree that stood for more than 30 years was destroyed by winds in February 2011.
First Lady Michelle Obama has kicked off the holiday season by welcoming the White House Christmas Tree to her home – a 19-foot Fraser fir from Peak Farms in Jefferson, North Carolina.
Michelle Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, and the first dog Bo were also in attendance for the presentation of the giant tree, which arrived on a horse-drawn carriage on Friday morning.
As the carriage, driven by two men in dapper top hats and red bow ties, pulled up outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as the Marine Band played Oh Christmas Tree.
With Malia and Sasha smiling and petting Bo, Michelle Obama gave the “thumbs up” after inspecting the tree, which she called “perfect”.
“I think we’ll take it!” Michelle Obama laughed.
“We can have Christmas now.”
Yet the inspection was merely a formality as the tree was selected by White House staffers in early October and harvested this month.
First Lady Michelle Obama has kicked off the holiday season by welcoming the White House Christmas Tree to her home
The tree will be placed on display in the Blue Room, where it will become the centerpiece of the White House Christmas decorations.
It came from Rusty and Beau Estes, this year’s grand champion winners of the National Christmas Tree Association, which has provided the White House tree each year since 1966.
Trees from Cool Springs Nursery in Banner Elk, North Carolina were chosen for the vice president’s home.
“This is the first time the White House tree and vice president’s tree have come from the same state,” said North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.
“It speaks volumes about the quality of trees available in North Carolina.”
North Carolina ranks second in the nation in Christmas tree production, after Oregon, and more than 5 million trees are harvested there each year.
Last year’s White House tree, an 18-and-a-half-ft balsam fir, came from Neshkoro, Wisconsin.
The official Christmas tree for the Capitol will arrive on Monday and will be lit by House Speaker John A. Boehner on December 4.
The 65-foot Engelmann spruce is stopping in 28 different communities on its journey across the country from the White River National Forest in Colorado to Washington.
It will be decorated with around 5,000 ornaments handcrafted by Coloradans to celebrate this year’s theme, Celebrating Our Great Outdoors.
US President Barack Obama got into the holiday spirit last night as the First Family lit up the new National Christmas Tree at White House.
President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters Sasha and Malia took the stage next to Santa Claus and Kermit the Frog and officially marked the start of the Christmas season with some carolling before they flipped the switch.
The 26ft 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.
President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters Sasha and Malia took the stage next to Santa Claus and Kermit the Frog and officially marked the start of the Christmas season
In remarks delivered during the tree-lighting ceremony, attended by hundreds, Barack 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 neighbour 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,” President Obama said.
Barack Obama 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,” Barack Obama said.
“In this season of plenty, let’s reach out to those who struggle to find work or provide for their families.”
President Barack 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 honour to our troops and our veterans and their families who’ve sacrificed so much for us,” he said.
Barack Obama was joined at the ceremony by his wife, Michelle; daughters Sasha and Malia; and mother-in-law Marian Robinson.
Before the ladies hit the switch, President Obama said: “This is the new tree. I know it’s not quite as big as the old tree. But it’s going to take time to grow. But we’re going to fill it up with some spirit and start a new tradition right now.”
Michelle Obama also took the stage to read Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” with Muppet star Kermit the Frog and Santa Claus, as children gathered around.
The lighting ceremony, hosted by television’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.
The new National Christmas Tree was planted in March in a New Jersey nursery.
The ceremony marks the 89th holiday tree lighting.
The tradition began with President Calvin Coolidge in 1923.