Watch CBSN Live

Obama lights the National Christmas Tree

President Obama on Friday evening lit the National Christmas Tree before a crowd of thousands on the Ellipse, between the White House and the National Monument.

For 91 years, Mr. Obama said, the tree has “stood as a beacon of light and a promise during the holiday season.”

Mr. Obama spoke about the message of Christmas, remarking, “Christ assumed a mighty voice teaching us lessons of compassion and charity... He ministered to the poor, he embraced the outcasts, he healed the sick.”

The president added, “No matter what god you pray to, or if you pray to none at all,  we all have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to make a difference.”

He also thanked the servicemen in attendance and said that “this year we give a special measure of gratitude for Nelson Mandela.”

Lighting the National Christmas Tree: A 91-year evolution
The tree lighting ceremony, hosted by actress Jane Lynch, included performances from Janelle Monae, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Arturo Sandoval and several other musical performers.

The National Christmas tree has a storied 91-year history: The tradition started with President Calvin Coolidge in 1923. During World War II, the tree wasn’t lit at for three years, out of concern that a bright tree would direct the enemy straight to FDR. And following his 1981 assassination attempt, Ronald Reagan lit the tree from inside the White House.

In 1924, the American Forestry Association donated a living tree to the ceremony. Now, the National Christmas Tree remains planted on the Ellipse year-round.
View CBS News In