(WASHINGTON) — With a little help from the first family and a slew of star performers, President Obama lit the new National Christmas Tree Thursday night, continuing 90 years of holiday tradition.
“In times of war and peace, triumph and tragedy, we’ve always come together to rejoice in the Christmas miracle,” the president told a chilly crowd of 17,000 huddled outside on the Ellipse.
“But our tree has been having a hard time recently,” he said.
The giant blue spruce that is now illuminated in bright green lights and ornaments is the third National Christmas Tree in as many years. The long-standing tree was toppled in a storm last year. It was quickly replaced, but that tree didn’t take hold.
“It just goes to show, nobody’s job is safe here in Washington,” Obama joked. “But I feel good about this one. It was planted just days before Hurricane Sandy, and it made it through the storm in one piece.”
The president then paid tribute to the “heroism and perseverance” of those impacted by the superstorm “who’ve showed us that Americans will always be stronger than the challenges that we face.”
He told the story of Midland Beach, N.Y., where the community, ravaged by the storm, rallied together to plant a new Christmas tree. The tree had one message, according to a resident: “It’s Christmas time, not disaster time.”
“For centuries, the message of Christmas — of peace and goodwill to all — has guided millions of people around the world through good times but also through bad times. This year is no different,” Obama said before wishing all Americans a merry Christmas and happy holidays.
The president, joined by the first lady, their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, and the first grandmother, were serenaded by Jason Mraz, James Taylor, Colbie Caillat and The Fray, among others.
TV star Neil Patrick Harris hosted the annual ceremony and ABC’s Modern Family star Rico Rodriguez, better known as Manny, tried to steal his way into the first family in a humorous bit.
As The Fray took to the stage to sing “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” lead singer Issac Slade asked the crowd if they’ve been good this year. “Most of the time, most of the time,” the president was caught saying with a grin.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Joe Sterling and Darran Simon, CNN
Seth Fiegerman, CNN