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Bush Lights National Christmas Tree

U.S. President George Bush has kicked-off the official start of the holiday season in the nation's capital by lighting America's national Christmas tree. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

The U.S. Army band entertained hundreds of people who turned out for the tree-lighting ceremony, bundled-up against a chill wind.

The larger national Christmas tree is ringed by smaller trees representing each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and U.S. territories abroad as part of what is called a Pageant of Peace.

President Bush says Christmas is a season of glad tidings to spend with friends and family giving thanks for the bonds of love and affection and the hope for peace around the world.

"At this time of year, we give thanks for the brave men and women in uniform who are serving our nation. Many of those who have answered the call of duty will spend this Christmas season far from home and separated from family. We honor their sacrifice. We are proud of their service and that of their families. We will keep them close to our hearts and in our prayers. And now as an expression of our own hope for peace in this Christmas season, we will light the national tree," he said.

The 83rd annual lighting is the traditional start of the holiday season in Washington.

The president and Mrs. Bush host dozens of White House receptions each year. This season's theme is Deck the Halls and Welcome to All.

White House guests pass giant nutcrackers more than three meters tall as they enter along the East Colonnade. Upstairs, the White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room stands more than six meters and is decorated with crystals and ornaments of iridescent glass.

Music is always a big part of White House festivities with performers representing the spectrum of American musical traditions from country and western to jazz and bluegrass.