Every winter when I was little, my family and I would bundle up in warm clothes and pile into our raggedy blue station wagon for a trip to Washington, DC, to see the National Christmas Tree.
It was one of our annual traditions that we looked forward to and enjoyed as a family. Unfortunately, that tradition fell by the wayside as we all got older, but I still have fond memories of those times.
If it weren’t for a sitting president almost 95 years ago, our family tradition may never have begun.
HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL CHRISTMAS TREE
In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge conducted the first National Christmas Tree lighting in Washington, DC on The Ellipse near the White House.
With the exception of 1942 – 1944 (during WWII), the tree lighting ceremony has taken place each year through peace and war.
Flash forward all these years later and this annual event is still a tradition that many people look forward to – locals and visitors alike.
Over the years, the annual celebration expended and evolved. According to NationalTree.Org, the National Christmas Tree official website:
“In 1954 the Washington Board of Trade and the Washington Citizen’s Committee conceived of a wider celebration called the “Christmas Pageant of Peace” in which the tree lighting event expanded to three weeks. A “Pathway of Peace” was composed of smaller trees representing all the states, territories and the District of Columbia. The 1954 opening ceremony was held December 17, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower turned the switch. The longer event, with local nightly entertainment, proved very popular and continues to the present.”
Since 1923, the National Christmas Tree has been decorated with lights. However, in 2007 the White House requested that the National Tree be lit by LED lights, making the tree more energy efficient. In 2008, the lights adorning the tree were almost solely LEDs lights.
The 56 smaller trees representing the states, territories, and Washington, DC, are decorated with hand-made ornaments donated by sponsors from each state. Each ornament’s decor is representative of the state and is protected from the elements by a round plastic case.
THE 2017 NATIONAL TREE LIGHTING CEREMONY
This year, the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, November 30th and will take place rain or shine.
To get into the ceremony, you have to have entered and won tickets in the annual lottery, which closed on October 30th.
- If you’re one of the winners, congratulations! You’ll have an amazing time! The ceremony will be hosted by Adademy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon. The program will feature a Presidential address as well as entertainment by a military band and others (TBD).
- If you’re not one of the winners, you can watch the ceremony on Monday, December 4th on the Hallmark Channel (check your local listings for the time).
NOT ATTENDING THE CEREMONY?
My recommendation is that you get out of Washington, DC as early as possible on November 30th…or skip going downtown at all. Road closures around The Ellipse make traffic a nightmare!
If you still want – or need – to be downtown for some reason, walking or taking the Metro will be your best bets.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
The National Christmas Tree and the Pathway of Peace will be open from Thursday, November 30, 2017, through January 1, 2018, from 10 am to 10 pm.
Visitors will enjoy various seasonal displays and entertainment by musicians and dancers. Performances take place between 5 pm – 8:30 pm weekdays and 11 pm- 8:30 pm Saturdays and Sundays.
VISITING THE NATIONAL CHRISTMAS TREE
When I go downtown, the Metro train is my transportation method of choice. Stops closest to The Ellipse are Federal Triangle, Metro Center, and McPherson Square. To plan your trip, click here.
If you choose to drive to Washington, DC, be aware that parking is limited. To avoid driving around endlessly looking for parking, check out Parking Panda. This great resource allows you to search for, price compare, and reserve a parking space.
You can also get around downtown is a ridesharing platform such as Uber.