1981-1988 National Christmas Trees

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1981 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1981 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

1981
December 17
Reagan

President and Participants: Security concerns, following an assassination attempt in Washington, D.C., led President Reagan to light the tree remotely from the East Room of the White House, the first time a President was in Washington, D.C. and not present at the Pageant when lighting the tree. [Washington Post, December 18, 1981.] The Boy Scout and the Girl Scout scheduled to participate in the ceremony were disappointed by the Reagans' absence (see 1982). [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace -- 1982," memo, September 15, 1982; NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1982," minutes, May 5, 1982.]

The Tree: Living Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (1978). The topper was made of three intersecting five-pointed stars, forming a three-dimensional, thirteen-pointed star symbolic of the thirteen colonies. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace -1981," Lighting and Design Plan.]

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: To reduce expenses, the petting zoo was discontinued. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1981," Pageant of Peace minutes, November 18, 1981.]

The custom of each state and territory tree being individually decorated with ornaments contributed by that state or territory began. [White House, Office of the Curator, National Christmas Tree, NPS Press Release, revised March 7, 1990.] After a few years the decorators began encasing the ornaments in plastic balls to protect them from birds and squirrels.

Theme: "Gifts"

Performers/Celebrity Involvement: Willard Scott as Santa Claus

Tree Topping: Barbara Bush topped the tree on December 1 for the first time. [Washington Post, December 2, 1981.] She went on to top the tree a total of twelve years straight.

Miscellaneous: A request was made by the National Christmas Tree Growers of Wisconsin to honor the Vietnam Veterans at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1981," letter, April 24, 1981.] Joseph Riley, president of the Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc., insisted that the emphasis instead should remain on Christmas. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1981," letter, September 14, 1981.]

Westport Marketing Group was hired to produce and stage the celebration, to create and produce the programs, to oversee television coverage and videotaping, and arranging for funding. Westport Marketing suggested the hiring of nationally known entertainers to attract publicity and garner interest in the program. A decision was made to improve the program by decreasing the number of guests on the stage to leave more room for performers and enhance the appeal of the ceremony for the television audience. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace -- 1981," Pageant of Peace minutes, May 22, 1981, and letter, September 6, 1983.]

 


 
1982 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1982 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

1982
December 16
Reagan

President and Participants: President Reagan lit the National Christmas Tree from the South Portico of the White House with the Boy Scout and Girl Scout who had been scheduled to give Christmas Greetings to the Reagans in 1981. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1982, File 2," memo, December 15, 1982.] A screen broadcast the President's appearance live. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A 82 Pageant of Peace 1982, File 1," Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc., minutes, November 17, 1982.]

The Tree: Living Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (1978).

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: With the absence of the President on the Ellipse, alternate arrangements were suggested for a reduced ceremony in 1982 ceremony. A reduction in the size of the tent, the number of seats, and the number of purchased decorative seats, and the narrowing of the roadway were all discussed. It was also suggested that the Yule log be eliminated and the amount of stage decorating be reduced. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1981, "Suggested 1982 Reductions due to Non-Presidential Participation," September 20, 1982.] There was also discussion of moving the ceremony indoors and televising it from the White House, having the President stand on the Truman balcony, or inviting Mrs. Reagan or the Vice President to do the honors. All of these possibilities were discarded. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A 82 Pageant of Peace 1982, File 1," Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc. minutes, November 17, 1982.]

Theme: "Hope"

Performers/Celebrity Involvement: To compensate for the President's absence, Westport Marketing Group suggested the appearance of name celebrities and entertainers to draw people to the Ellipse.

Andy Williams and the cast of "Annie" performed at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1983, File 2," note, undated; NPS- WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1982, File 1," Pageant of Peace minutes, November 17, 1982.]

Willard Scott again performed the role of Santa Claus.

Tree Topping: Barbara Bush topped the tree with Joseph Riley on December 2, 1982. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1982, File 1," Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc. minutes, November 17, 1982.]

 


 
1983 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1983 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

1983
December 15
Reagan

President and Participants: President Reagan lit the National Christmas Tree from the South Portico of the White House with the Boy Scout and Girl Scout who had been scheduled to give Christmas Greetings to the Reagans in 1981. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1982, File 2," memo, December 15, 1982.] A screen broadcast the President's appearance live. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A 82 Pageant of Peace 1982, File 1," Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc., minutes, November 17, 1982.]

The Tree: Living Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (1978).

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: With the absence of the President on the Ellipse, alternate arrangements were suggested for a reduced ceremony in 1982 ceremony. A reduction in the size of the tent, the number of seats, and the number of purchased decorative seats, and the narrowing of the roadway were all discussed. It was also suggested that the Yule log be eliminated and the amount of stage decorating be reduced. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1981, "Suggested 1982 Reductions due to Non-Presidential Participation," September 20, 1982.] There was also discussion of moving the ceremony indoors and televising it from the White House, having the President stand on the Truman balcony, or inviting Mrs. Reagan or the Vice President to do the honors. All of these possibilities were discarded. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A 82 Pageant of Peace 1982, File 1," Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc. minutes, November 17, 1982.]

Theme: "Hope"

Performers/Celebrity Involvement: To compensate for the President's absence, Westport Marketing Group suggested the appearance of name celebrities and entertainers to draw people to the Ellipse.

Andy Williams and the cast of "Annie" performed at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1983, File 2," note, undated; NPS- WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1982, File 1," Pageant of Peace minutes, November 17, 1982.]

Willard Scott again performed the role of Santa Claus.

Tree Topping: Barbara Bush topped the tree with Joseph Riley on December 2, 1982. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1982, File 1," Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc. minutes, November 17, 1982.]

 


 
1984 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1984 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

1984
December 13
Reagan

President and Participants: Standing at the South Portico of the White House, President Reagan asked Nancy Reagan to light the National Christmas Tree.

The Tree: Living Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (1978).

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: Having been determined historically and legally appropriate by a related U.S. Supreme Court decision (Lynch v. Donnelly, March, 1984), the nativity scene (absent since 1973) was reinstated by Manus J. Fish, regional director of the National Capital Region. William Clark, Secretary of the Interior concurred, calling the decision "historically and legally appropriate." [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1984 (1 of 3)," "Statement Restoring Crèche to Pageant of Peace, November 29, 1984.] The celebration was deemed "wholly secular in character, purpose, and main effect." [NPS-WHL, Box SE-011, "A 82(27) 1985 Xmas Pageant of Peace," "1985 Public Comment on the Christmas Pageant of Peace".] The crèche, donated by the Committee to Restore Religious Heritage, USA [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1983, 3 of 3," minutes, November 27, 1984.] was supplied by Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc., which was also charged with maintaining and setting up the display.

Theme: "Heritage"

Performers: Shirley Jones, Gavin McLeod, Willard Scott

Tree Topping: Barbara Bush topped tree with Joseph Riley, president of Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc., on November 28. [Washington Post, November 29, 1984.]

Outstanding weather conditions: Temperature rose above 70 degrees.

Miscellaneous: Westport Marketing Group first proposed producing and marketing a National Christmas Tree ornament with proceeds of the sales to help fund the Christmas Pageant of Peace. Permission was denied by the National Park Service, citing government restrictions against commercialization of "a symbolic national celebration event," a decision supported by the Christmas Pageant of Peace committee. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 Pageant of Peace 1984, File 2," memo, August 20, 1984; NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 President's Park -- 1987 Christmas Pageant of Peace, File 2, "Briefing Paper, 1987 Christmas Pageant of Peace -- Christmas Ornament Proposal".]

 


 
1985 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1985 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

1985
December 12
Reagan

President and Participants: The President and Mrs. Reagan lit the National Christmas Tree remotely from the South Portico of the White House just after 6:00 p.m. In his address, President Reagan mourned the death of members of the U.S.101st Airborne whose homeward bound plane crashed in Newfoundland. [White House, Office of the Curator, Christmas Pageant of Peace Files, NPS press release, February 2, 1998.]

The Tree: Living Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (1978).

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: The lights on the Christmas tree were turned down momentarily on Christmas Eve to remember the American hostages in Lebanon. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "President's Park -- 1986 Christmas Pageant of Peace, File 1," "Chronological Locations of the National Community Christmas Trees".]

In January the reindeer used for years by the Pageant were transferred to Maine. Due to the cost involved in transporting reindeer to Washington it was determined best to discontinue the reindeer. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "President's Park -- 1986 Christmas Pageant of Peace, File 1," letter, April 21, 1986.] There were no reindeer for the first time since 1954. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "President's Park -- 1986 Christmas Pageant of Peace, File 2," memo, November 10, 1986; NPS-WHL, Box SE-011, "A82 1985- Christmas Pageant of Peace, Christmas Pageant of Peace meeting, September 13, 1985, "Follow-up Log".]

A tree was erected to commemorate the "Year of the Handicapped." [NPS-WHL, Box SE-009, "A82 1987 President's Park -- Pageant of Peace, File 2," article.]

Theme: "Traditions"

Performers/Celebrity Involvement: Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, Willard Scott as Santa Claus, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and the Disney World Singers

Tree Topping: Barbara Bush topped the tree with Joseph Riley on November 25. [Washington Post, November 26, 1985; Washington Times, November 26, 1985.]

Miscellaneous: The Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) proposed that a statue, "Third World America," depicting a homeless family, be included in the Pageant.[NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 1985 Christmas Pageant of Peace, File 2," CCNV press release -- "Question of Homelessness Monument to be Decided," undated.] After public comment, the committee declined the proposal, calling it "not appropriate to the theme of Christmas," and disapproving of plans to sell posters and replicas of the statue after the Pageant closed. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 1985 Xmas Pageant of Peace, File 2" notes from Christmas Pageant of Peace meeting, November 25, 1986; The Washington Times, November 26, 1985.] The CCNV applied for a public gathering permit to place the statue on the Ellipse near the Pageant site, received the permit and displayed the statue. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 1985 Xmas Pageant of Peace, File 2," letter from Regional Director, NCR, January 6, 1986.]

 


 
1986 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1986 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

1986
December 11
Reagan

President and Participants: Security concerns again kept President Reagan from attending the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse. The President delivered his address by video remote and then threw a remote switch from inside the Diplomatic Reception Room, at the South Portico entrance. He was aided by Nancy Reagan and representatives from National Capital Area Big Brothers and Big Sisters program. Byron White, a Little Brother, threw the switch with Mrs. Reagan.

The Tree: Living Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (1978). The tree was decorated with 3,000 blue Christmas lights with a starburst design.

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: After many inquiries about the reindeers' absence in 1985 and the public's interest in seeing them reinstated, deer were once again part of the pageant. Now, however, they were of a local variety -- Luray deer. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82, President's Park -- 1986 Christmas Pageant of Peace, File 1," board of directors meeting, May 23, 1986.] [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 President's Park -- 1986 Christmas Pageant of Peace, File 1," minutes of executive committee, September 24, 1986.] [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 President's Park -- 1986 Christmas Pageant of Peace, File 2," memo -- "Reintroduction of the Reindeer Corral," November 10, 1986.]

Theme: "Liberty"

Performers/Celebrity Involvement: Jim Nabors, Willard Scott

Tree Topping: Barbara Bush topped the tree with Joseph Riley on November 24. [Washington Post, November 25, 1986.]

Outstanding Weather Conditions: cold, steady rain [Washington Post, December 12, 1986.]

Miscellaneous: A public meeting was held on October 13. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82, President's Park -- 1986 Christmas Pageant of Peace, File 1," "Transcript of Proceeding before the Department of the Interior in the Matter of 1986 Christmas Pageant," October 3, 1986.]

 


 
1987 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1987 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

1987
December 7
Reagan

President and Participants: The lighting of the National Christmas Tree was held early due to President Reagan's four-day summit with Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev. President Reagan lit the tree from the South Portico of the White House with Tommy Valente, a five-year-old cystic fibrosis patient. [Washington Post, December 8, 1987.]

The Tree: Living Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (1978). The tree was decorated with red, white and blue lights for the celebration of the bicentennial of the Constitution. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82, President's Park -- 1987 Christmas Pageant of Peace, File 1," minutes, July 13, 1987.]

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: The Pageant committee considered the use of solar lighting. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-006, "A82 President's Park -- 1987 Christmas Pageant of Peace, File 1," "NPS/NCR Fiscal 1988 Briefing Statement," October 13, 1987.]

Theme: "Blessings"

Performers/Celebrity Involvement: Patti Austin; Sherrill Milnes; "The California Raisins"; "Santa Bear, Mrs. Bear and Friends"

Tree Topping: Barbara Bush topped the tree with her twin granddaughters, Barbara and Jenna, and Joseph Riley, on November 25. [NPS-WHL, Box SE 009, "A82 President's Park -- 1987 Pageant of Peace, File 1," press release.]

Miscellaneous: American Marketing of Georgetown, Connecticut (formerly Westport Marketing Group), reintroduced the idea of marketing a National Christmas Tree ornament. The National Park Service's position remained constant and was supported by Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc. It opposed the commercialization of National Park Service events, stating that "the production of articles to be sold to produce revenue for the [Christmas] Pageant of Peace Committee represents a break with the tradition of local, volunteer sponsorship of this Park Service event. We remain concerned that such an undertaking would commercialize the symbolic national celebration." [NPS-WHL, Box SE-009, "A82 President's Park -- 1987 Christmas Pageant of Peace, File 1," NPS/NCR Fiscal 1988 Briefing Statement, October 13, 1987; letter, July 27, 1987.] [NPS-WHL, SE-011, "A82 President's Park -- Pageant of Peace Ornament Issue," memo for the record, October 30, 1987, and Briefing Paper.]

A public meeting was held on October 7 at which the American Jewish Congress registered opposition to the nativity scene. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-009, "A82 President's Park -- 1987 Pageant of Peace, File 1," NPS/NCR Fiscal 1988 Briefing Statement, October 13, 1987.]

Mitch Snyder of the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) testified at an open meeting on October 7 and again offered "Third World America," for inclusion in the Christmas Pageant of Peace. [NPS-WHL, Box SE-009, A82 President's Park 1987 Pageant of Peace, File 1," Transcript of Proceedings.]

 


 
1988 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielson)
1988 National Christmas Tree (Photo by Aldon Nielsen)

1988
December 15
Reagan

President and Participants: President Reagan lit the National Christmas Tree from the South Portico of the White House at 5:50 p.m. In his address he gave thanks for a "free America."

The Tree: Living Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania (1978). The tree was decorated with green and gold phasing lights. The tree-topper was a teardrop ornament.

The fifty-seven smaller trees lining the Pathway of Peace representing the U.S. states and territories parkled with thousands of clear midget lights. Each tree was decorated with special ornaments contributed by organizations from each jurisdiction.

Noteworthy Ceremony Elements: The Eastern High School Chorus of Washington, D.C. was the featured group for the tree-lighting ceremony.

Theme: "Legacies"

Performers/Celebrity Involvement: Johnny Mathis; Willard Scott; Shari Lewis and Lambchop

Tree Topping: Barbara Bush topped the tree on December 1 with two "literacy puppets" -- Rex and Rita Readasaurus. An audience of 12,000 attended the tree topping ceremony. [Washington Post, December 2, 1988; Washington Times, December 2, 1988.]

 

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