Oh Christmas Tree….

Oh Christmas Tree….

by senior contributor Brendan Kownacki
Photo credit: Brendan Kownacki

When President Calvin Coolidge lit the first National Christmas Tree on The Ellipse, outside the White House in 1923, it’s likely that he could never have imagined the grandeur and spectacle that would mark the occasion 100 years later. The Marine Band is still a part of the affair, just like it was in the first year, but now you can add in TV cameras, thousands of twinkling lights, and a parade of musical acts to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season.

This year’s ceremony was held on a blustery day with sprinkles of rain and curtains of clouds hanging low in the sky, but it wasn’t going to stop nearly 12,000 guests from joining the First Family, The Vice President and more from introducing “the star of the show,” as the President labeled the tree. The 30 foot tall Colorado Blue Spruce was planted on the Ellipse in 2019 and was draped in white and gold lights to mark its 100th year, along with a glowing star on its top.

The Vice President and Second Gentleman

Shania Twain

Appropriately, the celebration began with five time GRAMMY winner Shania Twain belting out “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” before host LL Cool J brought out the President and First Lady to light up the tree. Twain was not only the first performer but the first of many fashionable outfit choices of the evening, taking the stage in a long furry coat and hat that was perfect for the winter weather.

LL Cool J, The President and First Lady

Andy Grammer was next to the stage, bopping to “Little Drummer Boy” as he moved about the stage with the White House glowing behind him. Grammer brought energy and fun to the occasion, as he has done during his multi-platinum ranked career. Later in the show he would also sing a rendition of “The Christmas Song” while strumming his guitar.

Andy Grammer

Gospel singer Yolanda Adams brought a touch of soul into the program as she sang the Christmas classic “Silent Night” while wearing a full-length houndstooth coat and teal gloves.

Yolanda Adams

Colorful gloves were also on the menu for Joss Stone during both of her performances, first singing “What Christmas Means to Me My Love,” and then “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Stone’s sultry voice was accompanied by a saxophone solo from the Marine Band, and twirling dance moves from the artist who appeared to be performing barefoot, despite the low temperatures.

Joss Stone

Also dancing on stage was the Estefan Family. Cuban powerhouse Gloria joined by her daughter Emily and grandson Sasha Argento Estefan Coppola. The trio performed an original song called “Thankful” and as well as “Run Rudolph Run,” which got the crowd moving in their seats.

The Estefan Family

The last voice in the chorus of performers was Academy Award winning Actress Ariana DeBose who stunned crowds in West Side Story, bringing her beautiful harmony to “What Child Is This?” as the First Family looked on.

Ariana DeBose

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland retold the story of how a letter from a student to President Coolidge in 1923 led to the first Tree Lighting and she said that the ceremony always “brings together people of all backgrounds to celebrate the holidays and reflect on the past year.” As tense political battles have embroiled Washington, it may be best to stick with celebrating and less reflection this time around. Secretary Haaland then had the pleasure to introduce the man in charge…not Santa, but the President himself.

“For 100 years, Americans have gathered at the White House to celebrate the holiday season with the lighting of the National Christmas Tree,” said President Biden as he greeted the crowd. “Through seasons of struggle and strife, Progress and prosperity, for a century and counting we’ve come together in the spirit of unity and joy, hope and light.”

The President presented a message of goodwill with a healthy dose of folksy charm as he spoke to the crowd, including mentions of the cold weather, a nod to one of the female performers “that one beautiful lady coming out…” and a heartfelt thanks to the National Parks Service and National Parks Foundation who oversee the National Tree and President’s park.

The President noted that the theme of this year’s decorations at the White House is “We the People” and he noted that it was that unifying tone that is important to remember this holiday season. “Our greatest strength is America standing united and during this holiday season, reflect on our blessings, that despite our differences, there are far more things that unite us as one America,” said the President, giving an obvious nod to the partisan politics that had defined election day just a few weeks earlier.

“That’s America. A nation full of talent and aspiration, daring and undaunted. A nation that hurts and heals but never, never, never ever gives up. We’re the only nation in the world that comes out of every crisis that we’ve encountered, stronger than when we went in. That’s ‘We the People.'”

To conclude the program, Yolanda Adams and Ariana DeBose joined forces back on stage for a finale performance of “Joy to the World” that left attendees cheering and overflowing with Christmas spirit.

The National Christmas Tree is free to visit and open to the public on The Ellipse until January 1, 2023.