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What You Need to Know About Thursday’s National Christmas Tree Lighting

First of all, get ready for some gridlock.

This year's tree will probably look a whole lot like this (we hope). Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

The National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony is scheduled to begin Thursday at 4:30 PM on the Ellipse. It will conclude at approximately 6 PM. Be advised that with an assortment of road closures in the vicinity this event always causes epic capital gridlock (not the political kind, the traffic kind). The two key routes that are closed are 15th Street and 17th Street, beginning at 4:15.

Here’s what else you may want to know about the National Tree Lighting:

  • This is the ceremony’s 90th year.
  • Traditionally the tree is lit by members of the First Family. We asked the White House Visitors Center whether the device used is a switch or a button and were told, like out of a script for Homeland, “that information is not given out because the lines might be sabotaged.”
  • You need a ticket to attend the ceremony. The 3,000 seated and 14,000 standing room tickets were issued by lottery and none remain. The ceremony will be broadcast on WETA and streamed online. Note: Unless they take Metro, these people also add to the gridlock, because their tickets do not include parking.
  • Performers at the ceremony include James Taylor, The Fray, Jason Mraz, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Ledisi, Colbie Caillat, Rico Rodriguez, Phillip Phillips, Evan Shinners, and the US Navy Band Commodores. The host is Neil Patrick Harris.
  • The tree and the “Pageant of Peace” will not open to the public until December 11 at 10 AM. It will be open throughout the holiday season, with visits from Santa Claus and performances by choirs and dancers.
  • The tree is new but it’s not the tree that replaced the one that got knocked over in high winds in February 2011. The first replacement tree died after a year from so-called “transplant shock.” This new tree, a 28-foot-tall Colorado blue spruce, was planted in October.
  • The national tree is surrounded by 56 smaller trees that represent all the US states, territories and DC. Each tree has unique ornaments. The DC ornaments have a “mixed media dragon” theme created by the Youth Arts Program of the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. For the Maryland tree, students at Edgewater’s Central Middle School highlighted “creatures from the Chesapeake” with fish, turtles, jellyfish, and crabs. Colonial crafts are the theme of the ornaments for the Virginia tree, which were made by the 5th grade students at James Monroe Elementary School in Norfolk.

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