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1977-1980 National Christmas Trees

Written by Laura Schiavo
 

1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980

 


 
1977 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)

1977 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

1977
December 15
Carter

President and Participants: President Carter delivered a Christmas greeting and lit the National Christmas Tree at 5:45 p.m. with the help of his daughter, Amy. Secretary of the Interior Cecil D. Andrus also spoke at the ceremony. [Public Papers of the Presidents, December 15, 1977.]

The Tree: Cut, 34-foot Colorado blue spruce from Maryland (1977). A new tree of the same variety, donated anonymously as a replacement for the deteriorated spruce, was planted in October, 1977. [Washington Star, October 26, 1977.]

The tree was decorated in green, symbolizing hope, by 2,000 lamps with an energy-saving five-watt design. 500 twinkle lamps and white ornaments also decorated the tree. [NPS-WHL, SE-001 "A82 Pageant of Peace 1977/78," Pageant of Peace Minutes, February 28, 1978; NPS-WHL, Box SE-001, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1977/78," "The Story of the Christmas Pageant of Peace".]

Tree lights were on from dusk to midnight from December 15 through 26. From December 27 through January 2, 1978, they were illuminated only until 10 p.m. to conserve energy. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-001, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1977/78," letter, January 31, 1978; NPS-WHL, Box SE-001, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1977/78," "Lighting and Design Concepts -- 1977 Pageant of Peace," November 4, 1977.]

The new scheme achieved a 74% reduction in energy. General Electric explained that there had been no compromise of lighting concepts in the new scheme. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-001, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1977/78," letter and "Lighting and Design Concepts -- 1977 Pageant of Peace," November 4, 1977.]

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: In addition to the reindeer, a petting zoo was set up for the first time. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-001, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1977/78," memo, November 2, 1977; NPS-WHL, Box SE-001, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1977/78," Executive Committee Meeting Notes, December 12, 1977.]

The National Park Service granted a permit to the Christian Service Corps to have a live nativity scene in the western portion of Ellipse, outside the central area reserved for the Pageant. This scene was not related to that of the American Christian Heritage Association. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-001, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1977/78," Minutes of Board of Directors, July 19, 1977.]

The deteriorated tree from 1976 was used for kindling in the Yule log fire pit in 1977.

Theme: "The American Family" (or "Family")

Performers/Celebrity Involvement: Willard Scott [NPS-WHL, Box SE-001, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1977/78," memo to John Dixon, November 2, 1977.]

Tree Topping: The topping occurred on November 30. [Evening Star, December 16, 1977.]

 


 
1978 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)

1978 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

1978
December 14
Carter

President and Participants: President Carter delivered a Christmas greeting and lit the National Christmas Tree at 5:44 p.m. with the help of his daughter, Amy. The President said that the country was entering a period of healing and hope. "We are joining together as a people again, realizing the strength of a common purpose." [Public Papers of the Presidents, December 14, 1978.]

The Tree: Living, 30-foot Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (1978). When the 1977 tree was destroyed in a windstorm, a new spruce from York, Pennsylvania was transplanted to the Ellipse. [NPS-WHL, Box AM-027, "K14 Information Request -- Christmas Tree (74-86) File 3," memo, January 30, 1978.] Bad luck with live trees led some members of the committee to consider reintroducing cut trees. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-001, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1977/78," Pageant of Peace Meeting, February 28, 1978.]

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: The petting zoo was again included in the Pageant, with twenty-five animals including goats, lambs, and burros. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1980," minutes, April 19, 1979; National Park Service, Public Affairs, Pageant of Peace photographs, 1978, 1979 (photographic documentation).]

An original composition by Eileen O'Leary of Lexington, Massachusetts entitled "Let's Turn on the Lights of the Christmas Tree" was performed by young singers from Callanwolde, Georgia. Ms. O'Leary attended the Pageant and was introduced. The song was to be sung every year but was not continued in the years that followed. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-001, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1977/ 1978," minutes, April 19, 1979.]

The Pageant included a separate "community tree" and "senior citizens' tree." [NPS-WHL, Box SE-009, "A82 1987 President's Park -- Pageant of Peace, File 2, article.]

Theme: "Unity"

Performers/Celebrity Involvement: Willard Scott as Santa Claus [NPS-WHL, Box SE-001, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1978/ 1978," minutes, April 19, 1979.]

Tree Topping: Amy Carter topped the tree with John Dixon on December 5 [Washington Post, December, 1978] beginning a custom of a member of the President's or Vice President's family topping the tree, interrupted only once in 1980 (see 1980).

Miscellaneous: The Christian Service Corps sued the National Park Service to gain access to the Ellipse space inhabited by the Christmas Pageant of Peace in order to stage a live drama of the nativity as part of the Pageant. The National Park Service granted the organization permission only until December 24, at which point the Christmas Pageant of Peace was said to have sole right to the area. [Washington Post, December 16, 1978 and December 21, 1978.]

 


 
1979 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)

1979 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

1979
December 13
Carter

President and Participants: Surprising an unsuspecting crowd, when President Carter sent his daughter Amy to light the tree at 5:50 p.m., the switch lit only the top star on the big tree, and only tiny blue lights illuminated the state trees on the Pathway of Peace. The President announced that the National Christmas Tree, a nationwide symbol, would remain dark until the American hostages in Iran were set free. "Amy has lit fifty trees -- one for each American hostage," the President told the stunned crowd. "We will turn on the rest of the lights when the hostages come home." The audience applauded. The President then requested a moment of silent prayer. [Washington Post, December 14, 1979; Public Papers of the Presidents, December 13, 1979.]

The Tree: Living, 30-foot Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (1978). General Electric had designed a scheme of multiple lighting and visual effects and an all white tree to coordinate with the theme of "Joy and Light." However, the tree remained unlit. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-001, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1977/78," "Theme and Design of 1979 Pageant of Peace".]

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: A separate tree commemorated prisoners of war. [Washington Post, December 22, 1984; NPS-WHL, Box SE-009, "A82 1987 President's Park -- Pageant of Peace, File 2, article.]

Families of the American hostages in Iran were invited to attend the Christmas Pageant of Peace opening night ceremony. [Washington Post, December 22, 1984.]

President Carter lit a Hanukkah Menorah on the Ellipse for the first time. [Washington Post, December 22, 1984; NPS-WHL, SE-006 "A82 Pageant of Peace 1983, File 1," letter, November 1, 1983.]

Theme: "Joy and Light," celebrating the 100th anniversary of Thomas A. Edison's invention of the practical incandescent lamp.

Performers/Celebrity Involvement: Willard Scott

Tree Topping: Joan Mondale topped the tree with Joseph Riley, the newly appointed president of the Christmas Pageant of Peace, on December 4. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace, 1980," NPS News Release.]

Miscellaneous: Early in the year the National Park Service considered the problems caused by the Pageant of Peace, including the annual, four month disturbance to the Ellipse grounds, the interference of the White House-Jefferson Memorial vista, the investment required for electric wiring, and the need for a larger seating area. The National Park Service discussed alternative schemes including the possibility of removing the plywood walkway, which lined the Pathway of Peace. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace, 1980," memos, February 9, 1979, February 15, 1979.]

 


 
1980 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)

1980 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

1980
December 18
Carter

President and Participants: President Carter lit the National Christmas Tree for only 417 seconds, each second symbolizing one day of captivity of the Americans hostages held hostage in Iran. On January 20, 1981, (President Reagan's Inauguration Day) after the American hostages were released and their airplane had cleared Iranian air space, the tree was hastily decorated in time for their return. [NPS-WHL, Box AM-027, "K14 Information Request, Christmas Tree (74-86), File 2," memo, January 22, 1981.]

The Tree: Living, 30-foot Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (1978).

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: A separate tree was planted in honor of American prisoners of war and the families of the American hostages were invited to the Christmas Pageant of Peace opening ceremony. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-009, "A82 1987 President's Park -- Pageant of Peace, File 2," article.]

Theme: "Faith"

Performers/Celebrity Involvement: Willard Scott as Santa Claus

Tree Topping: Penne Langdon, wife of the highest ranking American hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, topped the tree on December 2. [Washington Post, December 3, 1980; Evening Star, December 3, 1980.]

Miscellaneous: The National Park Service instituted a new requirement concerning the planning of the Christmas Pageant of Peace. The National Park Service required that a public meeting be held prior to the Christmas Pageant of Peace to elicit suggestions and comments about the general program. In 1980, a public meeting was held on September 12. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1980," minutes from Pageant of Peace Board of Directors meeting, August 15, 1980.]

Did You Know?

Warren G. Harding, 29th President: 1921-1923

Warren G. Harding was the first newspaper publisher from Ohio to be elected into the presidency in 1921.