- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

President Bush invoked the service of U.S. troops in dangerous lands yesterday as he heralded the “season of hope” with the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

Before thousands on the Ellipse, Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, joined in turning on about 15,000 colored lights on the 42-foot Colorado blue spruce that has served as the National Christmas Tree for more than two decades.

Guests stood in the crisp evening air under clear skies to witness the tree lighting, part of the 81-year-old White House tradition known as the Pageant of Peace.

“I want to thank Santa for such good weather,” Mr. Bush said.

Many of the guests have attended the ceremony for years and have made it a family tradition.

“We sat through blizzards and lots of cold,” said Charles Borders, 38, a landscape architect in Springfield, who has come to the event five times.

But this year, many guests were pushing back their Santa hats and unzipping their heavy coats.

As dusk fell, Mr. Bush pressed the button that illuminated the tree.

“Listen to the words of the prophets and live in God’s peace,” he said.

Mr. Bush was accompanied by two Girl Scouts from Chantilly, whose troop sent 200 pounds of gifts to service members overseas. He said the boxes include presents and bug spray and will arrive before Christmas.

Among those who performed during the ceremony were Marine Corps Band, operatic tenor Carl Tanner, “American Idol” finalist Kimberly Locke, country musician Marty Stuart, vocalist and pianist Darren Holden and the West Tennessee Youth Chorus from Cordova, Tenn.

NBC “Today” personality Willard Scott pranced about the stage as Santa Claus.

So many guests attended the ceremonies last night that streets around the White House were gridlocked for hours. Most of the parking garages were filled, and many visitors got only as far as the perimeter fence, where they craned their necks for a small glimpse of the tree.

A fire at the Hotel Washington, just a block from the White House, on 15th Street NW, caused more delays for people leaving the event.

This year’s tree is topped with a Lenox star and has 120 crystals that glisten in the sunlight. A large-scale train runs around the base of the tree — a favorite attraction for many of the children.

Sam William, 8, of McLean, spent last night following the train around the base of the tree.

His mother, Donna Young, told her son they were close to the president, “but all he cared about was the train.”

The tree was more simple this year than in recent years. Kathy Presciano, who has designed the tree for the past 10 years, said the traditional design elements “shine brightly as beacons of hope and peace.”

President Coolidge lit the first tree in President’s Park in 1923. Today, the ceremony begins a month of celebrations that include performances by area musicians from 6 to 8:30 each night through Dec 23.

In addition to the large tree, the South Lawn of the Ellipse is lined with 57 smaller decorated trees — one for each state, five provinces and the District.

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