With a Boy Scout and Brownie at his side, President Clinton flipped the switch to light the 40-foot-tall living Colorado blue spruce on the Ellipse, just south of the White House. He urged Americans, in "the true spirit of Christmas," to bridge the racial divide and extend a helping hand to the less fortunate.
The tree lighting caps the annual Pageant of Peace ceremony, a Washington, D.C., tradition since the Calvin Coolidge administration. This year's show featured singer Wayne Newton, opera soprano Renee Fleming, cast members from the musical Chicago, county singer Marty Stuart, Washington's Urban Nation Choir and Santa Claus (played by Al Roker).
The Marine Corps band accompanied the performers in a slate of holiday jingles.
Several thousand people crowded around the Ellipse for the show.
Mr. Clinton sat behind bullet-proof glass during the outdoor event. The president's guest was Fred Sanger, a boy who met Mr. Clinton in the White House on Monday, courtesy of the Make a Wish Foundation, which helps terminally ill youngsters live their dreams.
The president, holding Sanger's hand, joined the entertainers in singing Silent Night, Jingle Bells and a medley of other holiday tunes. He laughed heartily with Newton as the two strained to hold a long note at the end of Adeste Fideles.
Mr. Clinton said Americans should be thankful to be at peace and to be part of the peace processes in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.
"As we light the national Christmas tree, let us spread the light of peace and goodwill toward our family, our friends, our neighbors and all those across the world, especially those who need it most," he said.
He spoke of using the season to renew commitments. "In this sacred season, it is time for all of us to renew our commitments to give of ourselves, to reach out to those who are less fortunate, to reach out to those who are different from us to build the One America of our dreams," the president said.
More than 75,000 lights illuminate this year's tree, which was transplanted from York, Pa., in 1973.
The tree will remain lit with multi-colored lights until midnight New Year's Eve. Then, at midnight it will change into a mass of white lights to mark the beginning of the new Millennium.
Savor the Season