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The National Christmas Tree seen shortly after its lights were turned on by the first family. Photo: TheNationalTree.org

The Centerpiece of America's Holiday Season

December 7, 2012

The air feels brisk as the sun sets on this early Thursday evening. I'm bundled from head to toe, but the surrounding Christmas cheer distracts me from the chill and warms my round, red cheeks with happiness.

I'm walking toward the White House, which stands out among the approaching darkness. Thousands of people stand about, waiting in a long and winding line that leads to the area behind the White House. Anticipation fills the air as I inch closer and closer to the scene. Yet again I'm distracted by the cheery chatter of children in line behind me as I try to absorb the experience I'm about to encounter.

Soon enough, I've nearly reached my destination. I hear Christmas tunes in the distance as I enter a security checkpoint tent and walk into the Ellipse through the other side. As I follow the path that guides me to my seat, a giant evergreen figure suddenly catches my eye. Its silvery-blue hue is hard to miss as it glistens in the spotlights from the stage within President's Park.

I've just seen the National Christmas Tree for the first time. And although it has yet to be illuminated, its presence is spectacular. This particular tree, a Colorado blue spruce from the front yard of a homeowner in Virginia, stands 32 feet tall. It's making its first appearance as the National Christmas Tree this year for the 90th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

President Calvin Coolidge began this festive American holiday tradition in 1923, when the first tree lighting ceremony occurred on the White House lawn. Fifty years later, the first living Christmas tree was planted on the Ellipse to support a more sustainable approach to the tradition.

The 90th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the Ellipse south of the White House, Thursday, Dec. 6, in Washington. Photo: AP/Alex Brandon

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michele Obama and the first family officially lit the National Christmas Tree together last night from the stage at President's Park. Watching the Virginian Colorado blue spruce experience its very first National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony was a special moment to enjoy this holiday season. The joyous holiday tunes several musical guests performed in succession accompanied my fascination with the reds, whites and greens that brightly lit the centerpiece to Washington's holiday celebrations for the next four weeks.

Seeing the President and his family in person was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But the illuminated National Christmas Tree was something else I'll never forget. When I paused along the fence lining the exit path to take a final photo - a moment to glance at the tree one last time - I compared its gigantic sparkling structure with the trees my family have decorated throughout the years. Its beauty, size and mere presence is something to remember as I seek inspiration for future holiday celebrations.

The National Tree Lighting Ceremony, presented by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, will be broadcast nationally on public television throughout December. You can find broadcast times by checking local listings or visiting www.thenationaltree.org.

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