On Wednesday at 2:45 PM, I got an email asking if I wanted two tickets to go see the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, and if I did, I should be ready to leave by 3:45 at the latest. My theme for this year is to say “yes!” whenever possible, so I was determined to make it work. Even better, I used every communication method available to contact my fellow Fellow and boon companion, Maggie, who as I expected replied without hesitation, “I’m in!”
We left around 3:30 PM, having been told that the gates would open at 3:00 and we all needed to be in our seats by 4:30 for a 5 PM start time. The warning that security lines would be long was an understatement, but they moved along at a reasonably good pace. We were in line probably around 3:50, and we got through security and found seats around an hour later. We were very fortunate in our tickets since there was a considerable number of ticketsfor standing room rather than having anywhere to sit.
It was as we waited in the security line that I realized that we were actually going to see the President and the First Family. I had found it somewhat ironic that during election season, my Beloved Husband, who was on sabbatical at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, had seen the President not once but TWICE on the campaign trail. It would be a sad state of affairs if I spent a year in DC and didn’t see the President at all, so I have at least partially rectified the situation.
The event was scheduled to last from 5 PM to 6 PM, but there was apparently some kind of delay because I realized that the United States Navy Band Commodores played each of their three Christmas tunes twice before anything started. Unlike the Capitol tree lighting event two days before, the weather had turned rather cold, so since we had had no chance to dress for the weather, it was a rather chilly wait. Then again, I did feel I had brought it upon myself since just that morning in my blog post, I had announced that I didn’t mind missing the National tree lighting since it was going to be so cold. I was justify to myself not winning tickets in the lottery, so I suppose it was karma that I would end up in company with the people I had mocked just hours before.
Eventually the First Family arrived, and it was a pleasant mixture of music and speaking. Neil Patrick Harris was the host, and he was his usual charming and pleasantly snarky self. The musical acts were well chosen for the mixed ages of the audience, although I found myself not only evaluating people for their singing talent but also for the apparent warmth of their costumes. James Taylor, a veteran of all sorts of events, eschewed a tuxedo entirely, in favor of a thick winter jacket and hat, but he certainly looked warm!
The event was put on by the National Park Service, so the Secretary of the Interior spoke a few words. Secretary Ken Salazar was a Senator from Colorado before being appointed to President Obama’s Cabinet, and I kept thinking of Senator Udall’s Colorado rule from two nights before that for every degree below zero, a speaker should shorten his speech by a minute. I know it wasn’t really below zero, but it felt like it! (As a side note, my boss, Senator Michael Bennet, was appointed to be Senator Salazar’s replacement when he took on his new role. These Colorado people are everywhere!)
I was able to see the President from a distance, as well as on the jumbotron screen, but it was pretty inspiring to see him in person, even as a little dot. I was also extremely impressed with Mrs. Obama’s part in reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas because she has a wonderfully expressive voice. Speaking of expressive, when the President was about to give his speech, he started off by saying, “Michelle told me I needed to keep it short because she wants more music.” At that instant, the jumbotron shifted to a view of the First Lady, and we could see her laugh and deny, “I did not say that.”
One new fact to me was that unlike the Capitol tree, which is new every year, the National tree is permanently planted in the Ellipse. President Obama mentioned that the current specimen is actually the third tree in three years. The tree that had been standing was either damaged or died, and then its replacement from last year did not take root and thrive after it was planted. This year’s tree was planted just days before Superstorm Sandy hit Washington, but it survived unbowed and unbroken, which bodes well for the tree and our nation.
Chilly night notwithstanding, it was great fun to be at the event and add it to my holiday Washington experiences. I understand that the event will be rebroadcast or it seems to be available on the web at http://www.thenationaltree.org/tree-lighting/