President TrumpDonald John TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: report MORE and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpGeorge Conway calls out Melania Trump after she criticizes impeachment witness: ‘You’re amplifying what was a nothingburger reference’ Impeachment witness apologizes for mentioning Barron Trump in hearing Melania Trump says impeachment witness ‘should be ashamed’ for mentioning son MORE lit the National Christmas Tree on Thursday in one of the biggest annual events of the holiday season in Washington.
The U.S. Marine Corps Band played “O Christmas Tree” as the Trumps took to the stage, 97 years after President Calvin Coolidge first began the tradition of lighting a national tree.
“It’s an honor to be with everyone tonight, and all across our land, Melania and I would like to wish you a very, very Merry Christmas,” President Trump said before the first lady pressed the button lighting the 30-foot tall Colorado spruce tree.
The tree, which was shipped from Pennsylvania to Washington in October to be re-planted in the Ellipse in front of the White House, replaced an older Colorado spruce tree that was first planted in 2010. That tree was damaged by a windstorm in 2014 and when someone tried to climb it last year, according to The Washington Post.
“More than 2,000 years ago, a brilliant star shone in the East,” the president said after lighting the tree.
“Wise men traveled far, far, afield — I mean they were a long distance away — and they came and they stood with us under the star, where they found the holy family in Bethlehem. As the Bible tells us, when the wise men had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and fell down and worshiped him,” Trump continued.
“Christians give thanks that the son of God came into the world to save humanity. Jesus Christ inspires us to love one another with hearts full of generosity and grace,” he said.
The president also thanked service members in the crowd.
“We’re forever in debt to the brave veterans and service members. We applaud their noble service. There is nobody like them — they are an inspiration to us all,” Trump said.
“We also salute our incredible police and sheriffs, federal law enforcement, secret service, as well as our firefighters, paramedics and first responders,” he continued.
The president, who during his campaign pledged to end the “war on Christmas” and told crowds before the first Christmas of his presidency that “we’re saying Merry Christmas again,” stuck to that message in his prepared remarks.
“At Christmas we remember this eternal truth: Every person is a beloved child of God. As one grateful nation we praise the joys of family, the blessings of freedom and the miracle of Christmas,” the president told the crowd, before wishing them a Merry Christmas.
The ceremony also included performances by singers Jessie James Decker, Spensha Baker, Colton Dixon and Chevel Shepherd. The group Max Impact — “the premier rock band of the United States Air Force,” according to the event’s website — also performed, as did the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and the West Tennessee Youth Chorus.
The 30-foot spruce is joined on the Ellipse by 56 smaller trees representing every state and territory and the District of Columbia with handmade ornaments from those regions. The National Christmas Tree is decorated with ornaments from every state and territory and the District, and is covered in 50,000 lights and 450 large white stars.
The event shut down streets in Washington through the evening on Thursday. Members of the public received tickets to attend through a lottery in October, but the event will be broadcast on TV on Monday.
The tree will be lit in the evenings through Jan. 1 and the site is free to visit and open to the public, with performances at the Ellipse each afternoon from Dec. 11- 20.