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.”
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.