- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

President Bush last night presided over his first national Christmas tree lighting, dedicating the tree to those who died on September 11 and to service members who have died in the line of duty.
"They will remain in our prayers," said the president, who also granted federal workers a four-day holiday weekend for their efforts in responding to the attacks.
"During this time of conflict and challenge, we once again celebrate the season of hope and the season of joy," Mr. Bush told the crowd of several hundred revelers on the Ellipse.
The Secret Service yesterday morning reversed a decision that would have allowed only guests with tickets into the Ellipse and opened the ceremony to everyone, as it had in previous years. D.C. officials have worried that tourists would be reluctant to come to the city since the White House is still closed and the Capitol has yet to reopen for public tours.
Amy Del Valle of Falls Church has brought her children to the annual event for the last five years. She said she understands the rationale for limiting access this year, but was glad when the restrictions were lifted.
"Christmas is always significant because of the birth of Christ, but this year especially it is important to show support for the United States and the president," said Mrs. Del Valle, who attended last night's event with her three children, including 5-week-old Ashley Rose.
First lady Laura Bush and two children who lost fathers at the Pentagon on September 11 6-year-old Faith Elseth and 5-year-old Leon Patterson flicked a switch illuminating dazzling blue lights and white stars on the Colorado blue spruce that stands permanently on the Ellipse just south of the White House.
The 77th annual ceremony marked the start of the annual monthlong "Pageant of Peace."
The tree will remain lighted and open for public viewing through Dec. 31, and musical performances by volunteer choirs and dancers are scheduled nightly through Dec. 29.
Yesterday, country singer Travis Tritt sang "Silver Bells" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and Tony Award-winning singer Audra McDonald performed "I'll be Home for Christmas."
This year, the tree is topped with a red-and-white star and adorned in patriotic colors and symbols: 100,000 blue and white lights, oversized star ornaments, and red garland. Around the tree are 56 smaller trees, representing all 50 states, five territories and the District.
Earlier in the day, an unidentified man was taken into custody after behaving suspiciously around the southwest gate. The man, 26, was carrying a foot-long knife. He later directed authorities to his truck, where they found several weapons, including a loaded SKS assault rifle, as well as another rifle with a scope, and a bulletproof vest.
U.S. Secret Service spokesman Marc Connolly would not comment on the investigation of the man, only saying that his arrest did not affect the events scheduled for last night.
Kathy Hankel and June Larson, both professors at the University of South Dakota nursing school, said they come to the city every year for business. While this is the first time their visit has coincided with the tree lighting, they were determined to make it and show support.
"We heard it was going on, and this year especially we wanted to come," said Miss Hankel, who added she and her colleague left their business meeting early to be here.
Miss Hankel and Miss Larson had met earlier in the day with Sen. Tim Johnson, South Dakota Democrat, whom they said was particularly grateful that they had made the visit. Some of their families had been worried they would not be safe, but they wanted to come see for themselves the damage to the Pentagon and show support for the city.
Getting through security around the Ellipse was a lengthy process, but most people did not seem to mind.
"We need to be aware of everything that is going on, but if it takes a little longer to go through security because of [recent events], so be it," said Susan Glaser of Alexandria, who came with her family to see the tree lighting ceremony for the first time.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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