Dec 062013

Don’t miss the lighting of the National Christmas Eve this evening! You can watch the lighting live, sponsored by the National Park Service, directly on

The first National Tree was lit in 1923. It was a 49 foot Balsam Fir from Vermont which was donated by Middlebury College and lit by President Coolidge. Every President, since Franklin Roosevelt, has spoken or taken part in this event. The ceremony was first televised in 1946, and since then the pageantry has built each year.  Amy Carter topped the tree in 1976, and a member of the President’s or Vice President’s family has continued the tradition ever since. The ceremony has varied depending upon special circumstances such as the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The President’s health or safety has also impacted the ceremony. For example, President Eisenhower lit the tree remotely while recovering from a heart attack. President Reagan lit the tree while remaining inside the White House due to security concerns. In 1954, the lighting of the National Tree began the tradition of a month long celebration entitled the Pageant of Peace. In 1979, a National Menorah was added to the Pageant of Peace celebration.  Although lawsuits have been filed concerning a nativity scene which was incorporated into the Pageant of Peace, the existence of a National Christmas Tree, and several other components of the celebrations, they have all been struck down by the courts.

The National Tree has emanated from various points all across the nation. Although there have been repeated attempts to plant and use a live tree, they have all been unsuccessful. The location for the National Tree has also varied, but by-in-large it has rested on the Ellipse of President’s Park.  The details of this year’s tree have yet to be released. The attached image is of the 2012 National Christmas Tree.

The ability to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and all other holidays of this season is something the Founders guaranteed for us when they passed the Bill of Rights. We are fortunate to live in a country where we can take part in ceremonies and celebration which others find important, but also the celebrations which are significant to our own belief systems as well. The ability to take part in festive celebrations, such as the lighting of the National Christmas Tree and National Menorah, and our rights which are protected by the First Amendment are both examples of What IS Right With America.


Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.

Everyone’s Guide to the Constitution:





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