First Family Lights the National Christmas Tree

Continuing an 89-year-old tradition, President Obama lit the National Christmas Tree this evening, saying, “We gather here not simply to light the decorations  but to honor a story that lights the world.”

The president, who rarely speaks publicly about his faith, reflected on the meaning of Christ’s birth. “He was a manifestation of God’s love for us …  and taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: We should love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. That teaching has come to encircle the globe and has endured for generations. And today it lies at the heart of my Christian faith and that of millions of Americans.”

The president urged the nation to act on that message this holiday season by helping those who need it most, “the homeless, the hungry, the sick and shut in.”

“This holiday season lets us reaffirm our commitment to each other as family members, as neighbors, as Americans. Regardless of our color, creed or faith, let us remember that we are one,” he said.

Then it was down to business. With his wife, two daughters  and first grandmother, Marian Robinson, by his side, the president lit the new, significantly smaller  National Christmas Tree. “That’s a good- looking tree,” Obama said.

The 40-foot-tall Colorado blue spruce that had served as the national tree for 32 years was snapped in half by strong winds in February. It was replaced by the current 26-foot-tall tree from New Jersey.

“This is the new tree. I know it’s not quite as big as the old tree. It’s going to take time to grow, but we are going to fill it up with spirit and start a new tradition right now,” the president said.

The tradition to have a national tree began in 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit 2,500 electric bulbs on a 48-foot balsam fir on Christmas Eve. Since then, the tree-lighting has grown significantly as an event. Tonight’s celebration included performances by tween heartthrobs Big Time Rush – who gave a special shout-out to Sasha and Malia – country star Rodney Atkins  and Ellie Goulding.

The event also included special appearances by Kermit the Frog, who read a spirited rendition of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” with the first lady, and, of course, Santa himself.

At the end of the event, the first family joined the performers onstage. The president and Santa, arguably the two most powerful men in the world, stood side by side as everyone sang “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” Kermit sang along too, from his perch atop the first lady’s shoulder.