(WASHINGTON) — The Christmas season has begun in Washington, with bright lights, festive trees and a touch of bipartisanship in the spirt of the holiday.
President Joe Biden, joined by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, lit the National Christmas Tree outside the White House on Thursday evening.
The president delivered a message of optimism, telling the crowd of first responders and military families, “We have so much ahead of us.”
“We are a great nation because of you, the American people,” Biden said. “You’ve made me so optimistic.”
While Biden struck a tone of optimism, the reality of the pandemic was still on display with a smaller crowd allowed than most years and guests required to wear a mask despite being outside.
Last year’s ceremony had no guests and was completely virtual because of the pandemic.
The national Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony began in 1923 with President Calvin Coolidge, when he lit a 48-foot balsam fir tree from Vermont with festive bulbs in red, white and green on Christmas Eve.
This year’s tree came from Middleburg, Pennsylvania, and is adorned with white and red lights. It is surrounded by smaller trees each representing a different state and territory with decorations unique to the area handcrafted by students across the country.
The White House tree was lit one night after the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, which featured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday.
“Now, as always, this tree is our symbol of hope. That it has earned the nickname ‘The People’s Tree,’ is a testament to its special ability to unite us in comfort and joy, no matter who we are where we’re from,” Pelosi said.
The Capitol Hill Christmas tree is a tradition dating back to 1964.
The 84-foot white fir, nicknamed “Sugar Bear,” made its way to D.C. after venturing across the country from Six Rivers National Forest in California. The tree features hand-painted ornaments made by California residents.
“A tree is the lungs of the earth. A tree breathes in CO2, captures the carbon but releases the oxygen, and purifies,” McCarthy said. “So it’s a rightful symbol of why we have it here.”
Both the National Christmas Tree and the Capitol Hill tree are free to visit for the public until early January.
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