WASHINGTON — For the third time in his presidency, President Donald Trump counted down the crowd on the Ellipse outside the White House to the ceremonial lighting of the National Christmas Tree.
“We’ll count from five down to that very special number,” the President said, before counting down to one, when first lady Melania Trump to hit the button and lit the Christmas tree.
It’s a tradition that goes back to 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit a 48-foot Balsalm Fir on Christmas Eve.
The president walked out on stage to “Oh Christmas Tree,” played by the U.S. Marine Corps band and spoke about the meaning of Christmas.
“More than 2,000 years ago, a brilliant star shone in the East,” he told the crowd in President’s Park.
“Wise men traveled far, far, afield — I mean they were a long distance away — and they came and they stood with us under the star, where they found the holy family in Bethlehem. As the Bible tells us, when the wise men had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and fell down and worshiped him,” President Trump said, reading from prepared remarks.
“Christians give thanks that the son of God came into the world to save humanity. Jesus Christ inspires us to love one another with hearts full of generosity and grace,” he continued.
The only members of Congress that the White House officially said would attend were Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas.
The National Christmas tree briefly closed last year, in part because of the partial shutdown. The National Park Foundation said in a statement that the site was closed after a man climbed the tree, and remained closed because of the partial government shutdown. But support from the National Park Service’s charitable foundation allowed the site to reopen on Christmas Eve.
“The National Park Foundation and hundreds of local philanthropic organizations and other park partners are always working to help ensure all people have access to our treasured national parks,” said Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, in a statement.
The park itself remained accessible through the shutdown, although Park Service facilities and the White House Visitor Center would stay closed.