Every year, the lights of the national Christmas tree are turned on as the opening ceremony of the Christmas season at the White House.
The tradition has become the second oldest for the White House, after Easter egg rolls, though it was not lit between 1942 and 1944 because of World War II.
The first White House Christmas tree lighting was in 1923 and was done under the charge of the president of that time, Calvin Coolidge. This year, President Joe Biden was present for the official lighting on Nov. 30. A number of contemporary artists accompanied the President for the event, as did a crowd of other onlookers.
Religion News Service reports that other symbols of faith have been included with the tree in recent decades:
“Occasionally, a Nativity scene has been performed with life-size figures near the National Christmas Tree. An Islamic symbol of a star and crescent also appeared in 1997 on the National Mall, not far from the White House, but was shattered and lost its star.
“This year, for the first time, an Islamic symbol was displayed alongside the National Christmas Tree and menorah,” President Bill Clinton said that year in a statement. “The desecration of that symbol is the embodiment of the bigotry that strikes at the heart of what it means to be an American.”
Despite its sometimes ecumenical nature, the tree has kept its traditional nomenclature. RNS continues:
The neighboring Capitol Christmas Tree was a Capitol Holiday Tree for a time. It reverted back to the “Christmas” title in 2005.
“The speaker believes a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree, and it is as simple as that,” Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, told The Washington Times that year.
Matthew Evans, then landscape architect of the U.S. Capitol, told Religion News Service in 2001 that the tree is “intended for people of all faiths to gather round at a time of coming together and fellowship and celebration.”
Around that time, some state capitols and statehouses also opted to name their pines, firs and spruces “holiday trees” instead.
For 100 years, the tree has managed to be a national symbol that gives rise to different interpretations and reflections. Read the entire story here.