“We’ll count from five down to that very special number,” the President said, before counting down to one, when first lady Melania Trump to hit the button and lit the Christmas tree.
It’s a tradition that goes back to 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit a 48-foot Balsalm Fir on Christmas Eve. Trump, while not known for sticking to tradition, kept his remarks brief and on message. He walked out on stage to “Oh Christmas Tree,” played by the US Marine Corps band and spoke about the meaning of Christmas.
“More than 2,000 years ago, a brilliant star shone in the East,” the President told the crowd in President’s Park.
“Wise men traveled far, far, afield — I mean they were a long distance away — and they came and they stood with us under the star, where they found the holy family in Bethlehem. As the Bible tells us, when the wise men had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and fell down and worshiped him,” Trump said, reading from prepared remarks.
“Christians give thanks that the son of God came into the world to save humanity. Jesus Christ inspires us to love one another with hearts full of generosity and grace,” he continued.
But the shadow of politics, and impeachment, still hung over the event.
The only members of Congress that the White House officially said would attend were Republican allies Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas.
The ceremony came on the same day that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would be pursuing articles of impeachment against the President.
Congress is also two weeks away from the deadline to avoid a government shutdown like the one that crippled Washington last year.
The National Christmas tree briefly closed last year, in part because of the partial shutdown. The National Park Foundation said in a statement that the site was closed after a man climbed the tree, and remained closed because of the partial government shutdown. But support from the National Park Service’s charitable foundation allowed the site to reopen on Christmas Eve.
“The National Park Foundation and hundreds of local philanthropic organizations and other park partners are always working to help ensure all people have access to our treasured national parks,” said Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, in a statement.
The park itself remained accessible through the shutdown, although Park Service facilities and the White House Visitor Center would stay closed.
How to Visit
The Pathway of Peace site is free to visit and open to the public December 9, 2019, through January 1, 2020. Hours are 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, and 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, according to the National Park Service.
What to Expect
The walkway surrounding the National Christmas Tree features 56 state and territory trees decorated with handmade ornaments that are unique to each tree.
The National Christmas Tree lights turn on at approximately 4:30 pm and turn off promptly at 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.