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Christmas In Washington

Home run hitter Sammy Sosa and a pair of scouts were on deck Wednesday to help President Clinton and his wife, Hillary, light the national Christmas tree.

After a traditional 3-2-1 countdown, flipping the light switch was an honor being shared by Jessica Scott, from Washington's Brownie troop 1257, and local Cub Scout Edgar Allen Shepard Jr.

President Bill Clinton and the first lady.
Hillary Rodham Clinton invited Sosa to help preside over the annual "Pageant of Peace" after the two met in October, during her hurricane relief travels to his native San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. His Chicago Cubs are a hometown favorite of the first lady.

The Santa suit fell to Al Roker of NBC's Today, while crooner Tony Bennett, guitarist Jose Feliciano, the cast of Broadway's Cats and opera singer Leona Mitchell filled out the celebrity lineup for the evening festivities.

The national Christmas tree has stood on the Ellipse between the White House and Washington Monument since 1978, when it was transplanted from a farm in York, Pa.

Broadway 'Cats'.
Surrounded by 56 smaller trees representing the states and territories, the 40-foot centerpiece blue spruce is lighted with the help of solar power part of "the Clinton administration's commitment to expanding the use of solar power and reducing greenhouse gas emissions for a cleaner environment," the White House said.

The annual lighting ceremony dates back to Christmas Eve 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson staged a "civic Christmas" on the Capitol plaza. Sir Winston Churchill made a surprise cameo appearance with President Franklin Roosevelt at the 1941 tree lighting, which took place in the shadow of the Pearl Harbor bombing. Wartime blackouts kept the tree dark from 1942 until 1944 and, after the Korean War, the lighting ceremony was officially named "Pageant of Peace."