The National Christmas Tree lighting tradition continues in 2013. The event was hosted by actress Jane Lynch and president Obama Friday evening. Thousands of people gathered for the event and listened to a speech that the president gave about the meaning of Christmas. Numerous musical artists performed at the event, which has a history going back 91 years.
The president gave a special thanks to the troops and their families and talked about “a special measure of gratitude for Nelson Mandela.”
Musical performances at the lighting included those by Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Janelle Monae and several others.
The National Christmas Tree tradition began in 1923 when Calvin Coolidge was president. A 48-foot-tall tree taken from Vermont was used in the lighting. The following year the lighting was dedicated to Mrs. Coolidge after her son had died from blood poisoning. That year the tree was donated by the American Forestry Association.
In 1929, the Hoovers allowed children into the White House after the lighting and a fire broke out which devastated the West Wing. President Hoover ran into the burning wing to retrieve important items, as well as to save a puppy from the blaze.
Throughout the 1920s, African Americans were required to wait until white viewers had left before they could view the tree. African Americans were not even allowed to enter the grounds until all of the white attendees had departed.
Originally, the National Christmas Tree lighting was used to encourage people to purchase electric tree lights and thereby use more electricity. However, in 1942, the tree was left unlit to conserve energy and abide by the wartime blackout restrictions. The tree was not lit again until after World War II had come to an end.
In 1948, the National Christmas Tree tradition continued, but was lit by remote control because President Truman decided to spend the holiday in Missouri. Remote control lighting was utilized again in 1948 following a heart attack by President Eisenhower. President Reagan lit the tree from the White House’s East Room, due to concern over possible assassination attempts except for 1984. That year, Ronald Reagan sent his wife to out into the cold to light the tree for him.
In another interesting year for the tradition, a train transporting the tree to the White House from North Dakota derailed twice. Once the tree arrived, bulbs on it exploded because of fireproofing liquid that the tree had been sprayed with.
It was not until 1973 that it was suggested a living tree be planted rather than shipping a new tree each year. Over the years, the tree has been replaced by new ones due to weather damage the other trees suffered.
This year President Obama stood outside with his family for the continuation of the National Christmas Tree lighting tradition. He talked about the life of Christ and the meaning of the holiday season. He also said, “No matter what God you pray to, or if you pray to none at all, we all have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to make a difference.” The President concluded the event by wishing onlookers a Merry Christmas and holiday season from his family and the family’s dogs, Sunny and Bo.
By Lara Stielow