Ever since Christmas Eve in 1923, American presidents have upheld an important tradition: the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in Washington D.C. On Thursday, Dec. 5, President Donald Trump participated in the tree lighting ceremony for his third time, with a new tree boasting 50,000 lights. Video of the 2019 National Christmas Tree Lighting shows Trump and first lady Melania hosting the festivities, which featured performers such as Jessie James Decker, Spensha Baker, and the Air Force rock band Max Impact. It also contained a subtle reference to the impeachment process — did you catch it?
As in previous years, this year's tree lighting ceremony took place at the Ellipse in President's Park, just south of the White House. According to the National Christmas Tree's official website, the tree lighting ceremony was co-presented by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation. This tradition is now 97 years old.
The National Christmas Tree Lighting started under former President Calvin Coolidge, who in 1923 decided to light up a 48-foot Balsam Fir from Vermont with 2,500 Christmas-colored lights. This year, however, Trump presided over the lighting of a brand new tree: a 30-foot Colorado blue spruce from Palmyra, Pennsylvania, per CBS News. The National Park Service planted the new tree back in October to get it ready for Christmastime.
It's a tumultuous time for Trump and his administration, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi directing House committees to draw up articles of impeachment. Photos of this year's National Christmas Tree Lighting, which you can take a look at below, reveal a fairly calm ceremony, though, in which Trump didn't directly refer to ongoing impeachment proceedings. Instead, he delivered brief remarks describing the history of the tree lighting ceremony and thanking those who had organized it, per Newsweek. However, Trump did still give a subtle nod to the impeachment process by inviting, and acknowledging, Republican lawmakers who have defended him and recognizing them by name during the ceremony.
"We also have with us some very special people," Trump said in his speech. "Congressman Jim Jordan, Congressman Mark Meadows and Representative John Ratcliffe."
According to The New York Times, Jordan — a Republican representative from Ohio — has been Trump's chief defender during the impeachment hearings, at which he adopted a biting interrogation style when addressing Democrats' key witnesses. North Carolina Rep. Meadows, meanwhile, denied the viability of witnesses' statements by suggesting that "everybody has their impression of what truth is." At the same time, Texas Rep. Ratcliffe has rejected Democrats' allegations that Trump committed any impeachable offenses, and has fiercely criticized their impeachment investigation. All three lawmakers attended Thursday's National Christmas Tree Lighting, and Trump's decision to invite and personally thank them seemed to be an understated nod to the impeachment process.
Historically, the National Christmas Tree Lighting has been a highly popular event, drawing so many attendees that it requires a lottery to get a ticket. But the event hasn't been as popular since Trump took office. Two years ago, more than half the seats at the 2017 ceremony were empty. Contrast that to 2016 — former President Barack Obama's last year in office — when the crowd was packed with people.
Despite these past controversies, Trump kept his tree lighting remarks brief as first lady Melania lit this year's tree. As a president who supposedly wants to "bring back 'Merry Christmas,'" the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony was a chance for Trump to make a statement — and inviting his key impeachment defenders to the event may have been his attempt to do so, during yet another tough week for the White House.