WASHINGTON (AP) — “Five, four, three, two, one!” and the towering National Christmas Tree blazed with bright color Wednesday evening as President Joe Biden marked a century-old American tradition leading the lighting near the White House.
The president, joined by first lady Jill Biden and host LL Cool J, led the festive crowd braving damp, chilly weather in a countdown before the tree was illuminated.
Biden delivered brief remarks on American unity and promise, concluding exuberantly as Jill Biden blew a kiss, “From the Biden family to you, Merry Christmas, America!”
The tradition dates back to 1923 when President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse to light a 48-foot fir tree decorated with 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white and green, as a local choir and a quartet from the U.S. Marine Band performed. The lighting ceremony has been carried out year after year—drawing thousands to Washington—with a few exceptions during times of war and national tragedy.
The current 27-foot white fir was planted just last year.
Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff joined the Bidens to watch some of the evening’s musical performances.
In 2020, due to COVID-19 health concerns, the lighting did not have a live audience. After President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, President Lyndon Johnson postponed the ceremony until days before Christmas as the nation observed a thirty-day period of national mourning. And the tradition was paused from 1941 to 1945 during World War II.
CBS will broadcast the tree lighting ceremony on the evening of Dec. 18, one week before Christmas. This year’s ceremony included performances by the U.S. Marine Band, Ariana DeBose, Shania Twain, the Estefans and others.