This year our family was lucky enough to score tickets to the lighting of the National Christmas Tree held on December 9th. Tickets for this event are distributed through a lottery system on the National Parks’ website. Entries are typically due by the end of November though the official date varies from year to year. Two types of tickets are given out in the lottery, green tickets for seated sections and yellow tickets for standing room only.
With our green tickets we were advised to arrive early for the best seats. The ceremony was scheduled to begin at 5pm and gates opened at 3pm. On this very cold December night we arrived to the gates at 4pm securing seats that were pretty far back but with a straight view to the stage and more importantly a huge jumbo tron. If you are lucky enough to score tickets but they are the standing room only type I would strongly recommend leaving the kids at home. You are basically allowed on the grounds but need to stand behind a fence REALLY far away from the stage. Unless you are in the very front and/or plan to hold kids up to see, this would be really difficult for them to enjoy.
Backpacks and other large bags are not allowed on the premises of the Ellipse during the Tree Lighting Ceremony but strollers and diaper bags are permitted. With a 4 and 6 year old in tow, I dusted off my old diaper bag, put a left over pullup in it for authenticity and then loaded it up with snacks and distractions to wait out the hour before the ceremony started.
Inside the gates it is easy to walk around once you have secured seats. Port a potties are available as is hot chocolate and coffee for sale (with a REALLY long line). The Marine Corps Band did some entertaining and the hour went by quickly. Dress as warmly as possible and bring hand warmers and blankets for when the sun goes down. The crowd let up a huge round of applause as the motorcade began to move from the White House and the arrival of the President and his family was a huge excitement for all.
Visiting the Christmas Pageant of Peace
President’s Park has much to offer throughout the holiday season once the tree is lit. Visitor’s can stroll through the “Pathway of Peace” where 56 trees decorated for all 50 states and US territories are located. There are also extensive train tracks circling the pathway and the National Tree itself. The National Menorah can also be found on the grounds of the Ellipse.
Entertainment is provided nightly with groups performing at 6, 7 and 8pm beginning on December 14th. On weekends, performances begin on the hour from 1 to 8pm (with no show at 4pm only). Most of the groups are local performers from the DC area. For the youngest visitors (and the young at heart), President’s Park has one of the area’s best Santas. We visited last year and arrived to absolutely no line at all.
Santa’s workshop, complete with mail room and a naughty and nice list, is beautifully decorated. Last year we received a free 5×7 digital photo with Santa. Visits with the jolly old elf are available Monday to Thursday from 4 to 6:30pm and 7 to 9:30pm, Friday through Sunday 12:30 to 4:30pm and 5:30 to 9:30pm. Special hours on Christmas Eve for those last minute requests are 11am to 3pm.
Rounding out the holiday attractions here at the Ellipse are the Nativity Scene dating from 1954 and the Yule Log which is like a giant fire pit, helpful to warm up on a cold night’s visit. The National Park service is offering a free cell phone tour of the park this year. Dial 202.595.1837 from your mobile phone during your visit to learn more about the National Christmas Tree and its history. Younger visitors ages 6 and up can also take part in the Junior Ranger Programs by contacting a ranger onsite.
The easiest way to visit the Ellipse is by using metro. Federal Triangle and Farragut West on the orange and blue lines are the closest stops. Parking nearby is metered and can be difficult to find (and at 7 minutes per quarter a little hard to keep up with unless you come with a lot of change).
Even if you don’t get to attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting — don’t miss coming to this great DC holiday tradition!