This post was written by Hatchet reporter Rachael Paul.
Over 10,000 gathered in front of the White House on Thursday evening, but they weren’t motivated by politics. Instead, they pushed to the front of the crowd for a view of a towering Christmas tree that twinkled with more than 60,000 LED lights on the lawn.
President Barack Obama told the crowd that the annual National Christmas Tree Lighting began with President Calvin Coolidge in 1923.
“School kids here in Washington wrote a letter to the White House asking if they could put a Christmas tree on the South Lawn,” Obama said. “More than 90 years and a few different evergreens later, the National Christmas Tree still stands as a symbol of hope and holiday spirit.”
Spectators, who had won their spots through an online lottery, danced, cheered and huddled in the cold to watch the lighting from several jumbotrons.
R&B singer Patti Labelle opened the evening with a soulful rendition of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” accompanied by the U.S. Marine Band.
Other musical performances included Fifth Harmony’s sultry “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and a classical “Oh Holy Night” by The Tenors. Artists from Ne-Yo to Rita Wilson also gave performances.
Nico and Vinz, two singers from Norway, gave a spirited rendition of “This Christmas” with fancy footwork to accompany it, and members of the crowd – including Sasha and Malia Obama themselves – clapped and sang along to the lyrics.
Husband and wife Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson joined the Obamas onstage to host the event, offering short, comical anecdotes and even taking selfies with the crowd in between introductions.
When the audience heard Hanks discussing basketball as he sat next to the president, interrupting Wilson’s performance, Hanks said, “I know [Obama] will be free in a couple of years, so I figured I would discuss possibly shooting a movie together.”
Finally, it was time for the historic moment that 13,000 people came to view.
When Obama stepped on stage to begin the countdown, the excitement was palpable in the audience. As soon as time ran out, the tree burst to life and spectators grabbed their smartphones to snap pictures of the massive structure of green, yellow and white twinkling lights wrapped in red ribbon and topped with snowflake ornaments.
This year, the White House departed from the usual GE Lighting for a more environmentally friendly route. The lights that envelope this year’s tree require 80 percent less energy. The design was by female students from across the country as part of Google’s Made with Code campaign, which encourages women to break into technology fields.
“Thanks to those wonderful students. It is incredibly impressive and actually one of the few things Tom Hanks cannot do,” Obama said, laughing.
But no holiday soiree is complete without a visit from the North Pole. To close, all the entertainers (including the Obamas) joined together to sing “Jingle Bells” with Santa Claus, with the president singing mini solos and offering Santa high-fives.