National Christmas Tree Lighting

A Washington, D.C., Holiday Tradition

2017 National Christmas Tree

Paul Morigi / Getty Images

Since 1923, the United States has held the tradition of lighting a National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., each holiday season. In 1954, a "Pathway of Peace" including 56 smaller decorated trees—representing all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia—was planted surrounding the National Christmas Tree. In 1978, a live 40-foot Colorado blue spruce was transplanted from York, Pennsylvania, to its present site on The Ellipse, the grassy area south of the White House.

Every year, sponsoring organizations from each state provide ornaments encased in protective plastic globes to shield them from the weather. The lighting of the National Christmas Tree (one of many Christmas tree lightings throughout the Capital Region) marks the beginning of a three-week holiday tradition in Washington, D.C. The decorations are unique each year and visitors from around the world come to check out the displays and live performances throughout the holiday season.

In 2020, Washington, D.C., will hold a closed tree lighting ceremony, meaning no spectators will be invited to watch in person, but the spectacle will be recorded for online viewing.

National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

The 98th annual lighting ceremony will be available to watch on demand starting December 3 at 5 p.m. You'll notice the tree will have a patriotic theme, bearing oversized red, white, and blue lights. You'll also be able to get an up-close look at the ornaments online.

Under normal circumstances, prospective spectators would have to enter a free ticket lottery in the fall to snag a spot at the anticipated event, held rain or shine. Those that don't have tickets can watch the ceremony broadcast live on REELZ or Ovation. During the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, big-name entertainers and a military band perform. The president delivers a message of peace to the nation and the world.

Entertainment and Performers

The 2020 ceremony will feature virtual musical performances in a variety of genres, from pop to country to Christian acts. Artists include Colton Dixon, Jerrod Niemann, Jillian Cardarelli, Jillian Edwards, Kellie Pickler, Laine Hardy, Leaving Austin, Matthew West, Lynda Randle and Michael Tait, Passion, the National Parks Service's Arrowhead Jazz Band, Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, the Sea Chanters, and the U.S. Marine Band.

Visiting the National Christmas Tree

The tree is on display from December 1, 2020, through January 1, 2021. Visitors can walk through the Pathway of Peace to get an up-close look from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday or 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; however, the lights don't turn on until sunset. Most evenings, you would typically expect to see some type of live performance—be it a local choir, band, or dance performance—but in 2020, live performances were canceled.

Getting There

The National Tree is located at The Ellipse, a 52-acre park near The White House. The best way to get to the area is by Metro. Exit at Federal Triangle, Metro Center, or McPherson Square.

Parking is extremely limited near the National Christmas Tree, but you may find a spot along Constitution Avenue between 15th and 17th streets after 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and all day on weekends.