- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The mercury might have hit 80 degrees this week, but the National Park Service has its sights set on the holiday season.

Starting 10 a.m. Thursday, the ticket lottery for the National Christmas Tree Lighting is open, park officials said, offering winners the chance at front-row seats for the capital’s unofficial start to Christmas.

The lighting is scheduled for Dec. 6.

The tree lighting boasts famous faces and musical acts, as well as an appearance by the first family and words from the president.

“It’s a nationally significant event that everybody loves to participate in,” said Scott Tucker, manager of President’s Park, which covers the grounds around the White House, including the Ellipse, where the tree is planted.

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the lighting as well as the debut of a new national tree. For more than 30 years, the same Colorado blue spruce stood on the Ellipse, but in the past few years, the spot has drawn a double dose of bad luck.

The decades-old tree was snapped in half by strong winds during a February 2011 storm. The tree planted to replace it lasted just more than a year before it died from what Park Service officials called “transplant shock.” Park officials said they expect to release information about the newest tree this week.

This year, the Park Service has 17,000 tickets up for grabs — 3,000 seated and 14,000 standing.

Anyone can toss his or her name into the lottery, Mr. Tucker said, but he warned that not everyone will get a ticket because of the event’s popularity.

This is the fourth year for the lottery. In prior years, Mr. Tucker said, “You’d wait in line two or three days, in rain, sleet and snow,” to snatch up tickets.

Tickets for the White House Easter Egg Roll, the spring equivalent to the tree lighting, were also handed out on a first-come, first-served basis until the Obama administration.

Mr. Tucker said the goal of the lotteries for both the egg roll and tree lighting is to “make it an equal opportunity for everybody.”

To register for the lottery, ticket hopefuls register their name through thePark Service’s websites about the event. Mr. Tucker said each person can enter the lottery twice, but can win no more than five tickets. Lottery entries will be accepted until 10 a.m. Monday.

The winners are chosen at random by a computer. All entrants will be notified, whether it’s good or bad news, on Nov. 1.

The District has had a national Christmas tree every year since 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit a “Community Christmas Tree.” The original tree was a 48-foot fir decorated with more than 2,000 lights.

The tree was not lit from 1942 to 1944, when a blackout was upheld during World War II.

Along with a robust tree, Mr. Tucker said the one thing the Park Service hopes for on the night of the lighting is “no rain and no snow.”

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