- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

Hundreds of people braved near-freezing temperatures Friday night for tickets to the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. National Park Service officials started giving out the 2,800 free tickets yesterday at 8 a.m. outside the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion, but many began standing in line long before place-saving vouchers were handed out at 4 a.m.

“Those tickets aren’t free,” said Maryland resident Eileen Butrick, who arrived at about 1:30 a.m. with bags full of equipment that included enough disposable body warmers to share.

While some people spent their time socializing with old friends and making new ones, Tony Geiger went to sleep. Mr. Geiger, of Waldorf, Md., was the first person in line. He was awarded voucher No. 001 by arriving Friday at 2:30 p.m.

“I met some good people here to keep me entertained and laughing while we were shivering in the cold,” he said. “It was an experience.”

Jaymeson Lane, 12, from Connecticut, was so excited about getting tickets that he talked to anybody who would listen.

Pointing to a colorful set of sleeping bags arranged around a public bench, Jaymeson said: “The big red lump is my dad, the big green lump is my brother, the big blue lump is my dad’s friend.”

The only other thing Jaymeson could think to say at about 2:30 a.m. was “Merry Christmas.”

Each person in line received four tickets for the Dec. 7 lighting of the tree outside the White House.

Virginia residents Michael McCartney and Brian Fort, voucher numbers 215 and 216, came on behalf of their wives and children who they said were “snuggled at home in bed.”

The men, members of the U.S. Navy, said this was their first time in line but were well prepared for the cold.

“I’ve done a lot of camping” Mr. Fort said.

Mr. McCartney said they spent some of their time watching “The Rock” on a portable DVD player.

As the cold set in, some people moved their conversations to the heated public bathrooms.

Sarah Vulcano and Linda Fecteau, George Washington University students, said waiting for the tickets has became a tradition for them and their friends. They spent their time talking, laughing and wishing someone had brought food.

“We tried to order pizza,” Miss Vulcano said. “But they don’t deliver to street corners.”

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