National Christmas Tree Lighting Draws 20,000, Stars Big Time Rush, Rodney Adkins

By D. Channing Muller December 2, 2011, 5:16 PM EST

Photo: Juan Carlos Briceno/FotoBriceno

National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
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The National Park Foundation and National Parks Services hosted the 89th annual lighting of the national Christmas tree Thursday night at the Ellipse in President’s Park, where it has taken place since 1974, with nearly 20,000 people in attendance. The hour-long variety show, which culminates with the lighting of the tree, included performances from country singer Rodney Adkins and singing groups Big Time Rush and OneRepublic.

“Going back to 1923, this started with the president walking down from White House to light tree where a community chorale group sang,” said National Park Foundation president and C.E.O. Neil Mulholland. “We wanted [to retain] the community feel, so we have a variety of acts that appeal to all different ages and musical and entertainment tastes.”

Tickets to the free event are distributed by lottery through the event Web site. With a strategic and secure approach to security and crowd control by the National Park Service police, organizers have been able to expand capacities for the show each year, this time by nearly 3,000 people. “While this is a unique event in itself, events of this size are not, and [the park police] are very efficient with getting people in and out and the first family secured,” said Mulholland.

Carson Daly, former MTV VJ and current late night talk show host, served as master of ceremonies and introduced each of the night’s acts. English singers Marsha Ambrosius and Ellie Goulding also performed along with the Air Force jazz ensemble Airmen of Note, which served as the house band. Kermit the Frog made a special appearance, joining first lady, Michelle Obama, on stage while she read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to a group of children. The program culminated with President Obama and the first family rejoining all the night’s performers on stage to sing “Jingle Bells” and “Winter Wonderland.”

The foundation streamed the show live on the event Web site and on the Armed Forces Network site to reach military personnel in more than 80 countries. Broadcast partner PBS will make a tape of the show available to all its local affiliates to run in the coming weeks. Other sponsors for the event include Underwriters Laboratories, GE Lighting, and Coca-Cola.

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