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 a tradition of lighting a National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., each holiday season. In 1954, a "Pathway of Peace," comprised of 56 smaller decorated trees representing all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia were 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.

Each year sponsoring organizations from each state provide ornaments that are encased in a protective plastic globe to shield it from the weather. The lighting of the National Christmas Tree is the beginning of a three-week Washington, D.C. holiday tradition. 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.

The National Tree Lighting is just one of many Christmas tree lightings that take place in the Washington, DC area.

National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

The date for the 97th lighting ceremony is December 5, 2019. There is a lottery that takes place in the fall in order to win one of the coveted free tickets to attend this special event. The event is held rain or shine. During the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, nationally known entertainers and a military band perform, while the president brings a message of peace to the nation and the world.

If you aren't one of the lucky few who are able to attend in person, you still have a chance to witness the first lighting from the comfort of your own home. On December 9, 2019, the lighting ceremony will be broadcast at 8 p.m. on REELZ and at 9 p.m. on Ovation (both Eastern time).

Entertainment and Performers

In addition to a message by the President, each year is are a variety of music artists and other performers. Past appearances include Kelly Clarkson, Chance the Rapper, Marc Anthony, Wynona, the Beach Boys, and many more.

Visiting the National Christmas Tree

While tickets are needed to attend the initial lighting ceremony, President's Park where the tree is located is open to the public throughout December until January 1. Visitors can walk through and see the National Tree up-close, along with the Pathway of Peace and other seasonal displays such as a Yule log, a large-scale model train, and a Christmas manger. Most evenings you can expect to see some type of live performance, such as local choirs, bands, or dancers.

How to Arrive

The National Tree is located at the Ellipse near The White House. The closest Metro stations to the White House are Federal Triangle, Metro Center, and McPherson Square.

Parking is extremely limited near the National Christmas Tree. Limited parking is available along Constitution Avenue between 15th and 17th streets after 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and all day on weekends. The best way to get to the area is by metro.

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