America's national Christmas tree is now ablaze with light in a park just south of the White House. President Bush spoke at the lighting ceremony, which was dedicated to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and U.S. troops serving overseas.
On a December evening as warm as a night in spring, celebration and bittersweet sorrow mixed in a park near the White House. Thousands gathered around the national Christmas tree, covered this year in ornaments and lights of patriotic red, white and blue.
There has been a ceremony to mark the lighting of the national tree since 1923. The tradition has gone on both in times of peace and times of war. "During this time of conflict and challenge, we once again celebrate the season of hope," said president Bush.
This ceremony was dedicated to the memory of those killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Mr. Bush noted that this year America enters the holiday season with losses to mourn and great tasks to complete. "And even in the midst of war, we pray for peace on earth and goodwill to men," he said.
The families of those killed September 11 at the Pentagon were special guests for the event, which took place under extremely tight security. Children of two of the victims helped flip the switch to light the tree.
The president thanked the children, the crowd and the singers who provided music for the event known as "the Pageant of Peace." They joined to sing traditional hymns and carols. But on this Christmas of mixed emotions, the music that brought tears was an old show tune.
The president closed his eyes as the words were sung. For a few minutes, the full weight of the last three months could be seen on his face. "This is a year we will not forget," he said, adding those who lost loved ones in the war on terrorism will remain in the hearts and prayers of the nation at this holiday season.