Season sparks first lights

President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush presided over the lighting of the National Christmas tree on the Ellipse near the White House Thursday night.

This is the 79th year of the lighting. According to a White House press release, the tradition dates back to 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit the first national Christmas tree in a ceremony organized by the D.C. public schools. In 1954, the ceremony evolved into the "Christmas Pageant for Peace."

In 1978, a living Christmas tree, a Colorado blue spruce, was planted on the Ellipse. It now stands at 40 feet tall.

In addition to the living Christmas tree, 56 smaller trees represent D.C. and each state and territory. Each night from Dec. 8 to Jan. 2 there will be a different live performance on the Ellipse, according to the National Park Service. For a complete listing of performers and times, see the park service Web site,

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