WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump and his family have lit the National Christmas Tree at the White House.
The White House tree lighting took place on the White House Ellipse, where the national tree and smaller trees representing each of the 50 states are placed each year for visitors to Washington to enjoy.
This year's event was hosted by talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford and actor Dean Cain. The event featured musical performances by the Beach Boys, the U.S. Navy Band, Mannheim Steamroller and other musicians, including Jack Wagner, Wynonna, Craig Campbell, the Texas Tenors, and the young-adult group Boys II Bow Ties.
This year's ceremony was the 95th tree-lighting celebration, started in 1923 by President Calvin Coolidge. The tradition was even carried on in 1941, just two weeks after the United States entered World War Two.
In fact, at that event on Dec. 22, 1941, there were surprise appearances by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Norway, whose country had been occupied by Germany one year earlier.
The tree was not lit during the later years of the war due to the need to conserve power, but local schoolchildren donated ornaments for the National Christmas trees of 1942, 1943 and 1944. With a patriotic theme and tags with the names of U.S. servicemen accompanying the ornaments, the national tree became a symbol of patriotism in troubled times.
Later in 1980, the national tree remained largely dark, except for 417 seconds, to remind people of the 417 days that a group of 52 American hostages had then been held by militants in Iran. The hostages were released in January 1981 after 444 days, and the tree was re-lit to welcome them back to the United States.
Today, the National Christmas Tree is lit early in the holiday season to kick off a month-long Pageant of Peace, meant to inspire goodwill and holiday spirit among all people and religions in the United States.
Tourists may walk among the trees, peek through the fence at the White House, take photographs, enjoy performances or recorded music, and view other displays such as an electric model train, a Jewish menorah, a yule log, and a Christian nativity scene.
Both the menorah and the nativity scene have withstood legal challenges centered on separation of church and state.