The Pageant of Peace and the National Christmas Tree
Visit The National Christmas Tree
The Pageant of Peace is a ceremony held each year in early December to light the National Christmas Tree. The Pageant of Peace includes performances by popular entertainers and is highlighted with the first lighting of the National Christmas Tree by the President of the United States.
The tradition of US presidents lighting a Christmas tree outside of the White House began in 1923 with President Coolidge. The ceremony that accompanies the first lighting was officially named the Pageant of Peace in 1954.
The National Christmas Tree remains decorated through Jan 1 and is a very popular holiday attraction in DC. Nightly musical and dance programs are also held near the tree during the weeks leading up to Christmas.
This site offers info about the National Christmas Tree and tips for getting Pageant of Peace tickets based on my experience.
About the National Christmas Tree
The current tree is a Colorado Blue Spruce transplanted from York, Pennsylvania in 1978. It is a live tree and now a permanent fixture of the Ellipse.
Since the tradition first started in 1923, the National Christmas Tree has been located in Sherman Plaza, Lafayette Park, the South Lawn of the White House and its present location on the Ellipse. The types of trees used over the years include Balsam Fir, Fraser Fir, Engelmann Spruce, Red Cedar and Colorado Blue Spruce.
When decorated for Christmas, the tree is surrounded by smaller Christmas trees representing each of the 50 states and US territories. Each of those trees is decorated with ornaments made by people from the area represented. There is also an extensive model railroad layout set up around the base of the tree.
A pit with a burning yule log and other Christmas displays complete the decorations.
The 2019 National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony will be held on Thursday, Dec 5. The lottery for tickets closes on Oct 21 @ 10am ET.
Where Can I Watch The 2019 Tree Lighting Ceremony?
How do I get tickets for the 2019 Pageant of Peace ceremony?
The Park Service has made it much easier to get your free tickets to the National Christmas Tree Lighting through an online lottery! The online ticket lottery is normally held in early October or November.
Go to the National Christmas Tree site for details on how to register for the lottery. The 2019 lottery closes on October 21.
Good luck! Back in my day, we had to show up in person at the crack of dawn and wait in the cold for a chance at tickets.
Where is the National Christmas Tree?
The National Christmas Tree is located at the northern part of the Ellipse in Washington DC. The Ellipse is a large open area between the White House and the Washington Monument.
You can see the tree itself by zooming in on the satellite map below. See that big tree all by itself inside the walkway that goes around the Ellipse? That's our Christmas Tree.
The Ellipse, home of the National Christmas Tree.
Links to More Info...
Check out these official sites for more information and photos.
Attending the Pageant of Peace
Attending the ceremony is a fun and memorable experience. You will meet people from all over the country and the world who have come to share in the celebration. In addition to seeing the tree lit for the first time, there is also festive entertainment and you get to see the President speak live.
Seating is general admission so arrive early before the gates open to get a good spot in line. Make sure to dress appropriately for the weather. Taking Metro is a good idea to avoid traffic. The Metro Center and Federal Triangle stations are only a few blocks away.
National Christmas Tree Trivia
- 2007 was the first year the tree is decorated using LED lighting. This is expected to use 60% less energy than previous years.
- The tree was originally called the "National Community Christmas Tree".
- The tree lighting ceremony took place on Christmas Eve each year until 1954 when it was moved to early December.
- British Prime Minister Winston Churchill joined President Roosevelt to light the tree in 1941.
The Tree in the Off Season
The National Christmas Tree spends the rest of the year like most other trees, just standing around. Given its great location, the Tree also gets to watch the concerts, rallies and other events that happen year round on the Ellipse.
A great view of the White House and Washington Monument are extra perks of the job.
More sources of info on Washington DC and its Christmas traditions.
Back in my day...
The old way to get tickets for the Pageant of Peace ceremony
This was the process to get tickets when I first got mine back in 2007...before the government discovered the internet and switched to an online lottery. I moved it down here to the bottom to keep as a historical record...in case the government ever decides this internet thing is just a fad.
There are a very limited number of seat tickets (2800) available each year for the Pageant of Peace. The National Park Service (NPS) gives these tickets away for free on a first come, first served basis in early November. Selling these tickets is prohibited.
Here are some tips to improve your odds of getting tickets:
- Find out the date and time tickets are available. This can be found on the NPS web site or through most of the local Washington DC media. The date is usually a Saturday in early November.
- Get there early. The ticket window opens at 8:00am. I got in line at 7:20am and was fortunate to get spot #689 (out of 700). A few minutes later and I would've been out of luck. The people at the head of the line said they arrived around 4:30am.
- But not too early. The tickets are general admission, so being first in line doesn't get you better seats. It just gets you out of bed earlier and maybe gets your face on the local morning news.
- Save time getting there. The line runs counter-clockwise around the Ellipse from the Visitor Pavilion at the northeastern part of the Ellipse. If you're entering from Constitution Ave or 17th Street, walk clockwise to find the end of the line quicker.
- Get your pass. When you arrive at the line, a Park Service employee will be there to give you a pass with a number, that is your spot in line. Each person is allowed to pick up 4 tickets so there are only 700 passes given out (4tix x 700people = 2800 tickets). If you get a pass it means you're guaranteed to get tickets.
Congratulations! Now all you have to do is wait for the line to move. Once the line starts moving at 8:00, it will take about 45 minutes for the end of the line to get their tickets.
What if I don't arrive in time to get a spot for tickets?
You're probably going to be out of luck but there are a couple options to try:
1. You can try waiting at the end of the line and hope that enough people don't take all 4 tickets and some remain for you. Don't get your hopes up on this, everyone I talked with in line was taking all 4.
2. Ask a Park Service employee if any standing room only tickets are being distributed and where you can get those. You won't have a seat, but at least you'll have a good spot to watch the ceremony from.
National Christmas Tree Photo Credits
Have you visited the National Christmas Tree? Please share your stories below.