First Lady Laura Bush and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani turned on the lights on the Christmas tree in New York's Rockefeller Center. This year, the annual tree-lighting ceremony took on special meaning because of the September 11 terror attacks.
After the count of ten, First Lady Laura Bush and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani flipped the switch, lighting the giant Christmas tree in New York's Rockefeller Center.
30,000 red, white and blue lights, the colors of the American flag - were aglow on the tree and thousands of spectators, young and old began to cheer.
The lighting of the nearly 25 meter high spruce in Rockefeller Center marks the beginning of the holiday season.
The 69th annual event comes as the city is still shaken by the September 11 terror attacks.
Mrs. Bush says she was "excited" to light the tree and she wanted, "to be with New Yorkers whose strength and courage are a beacon for the entire country."
"As we remember the loved ones lost and reflect on the spirit and courage, that New Yorkers have shown in abundance, let us be thankful for our family, our friends and our great country," Mrs. Bush said. "Whether you're skating under this beautiful tree, or taking in the lights and stars of Broadway, America loves New York."
The ceremony featured tributes to the nearly 4,000 people killed in the September 11 attacks. Some relatives of the victims were there and took part in the show.
The evening opened with a performance by New York City police officer Daniel Rodriguez, who sang a Christmas carol.
Twenty-three police officers, 343 firefighters and one emergency medical worker were killed when the World Trade Center collapsed.
New York's fire and police commissioners joined outgoing Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani at the ceremony. Mr. Giuliani said New York is still in mourning, and called the event a salute to the heroes of September 11.
"Tonight's tree lighting is a salute to our heroes, to our traditions, to the strength and unity of our nation," the mayor said. "Together, people throughout New York City and all across America will share the true spirit of the season, and the spirit of love and hope."
Both Mrs. Bush and Mr. Giuliani encouraged Americans to visit New York City.
Some of America's most popular singers, including Marc Anthony and Jessica Simpson traveled to New York for the tree lighting. They performed both popular hits and Christmas carols.
Just before the tree was lit, singers Tony Bennett and Vanessa Williams sang a duet of the Irving Berlin classic, White Christmas.
It was not a typical tree-lighting ceremony in Rockefeller Center. But there were white horses, camels and an appearance by Santa Claus, in an event that remains a symbol of the Christmas season.