WASHINGTON (AP) – President Obama threw the switch, bathing the National Christmas Tree in lights and giving an otherwise dreary day in the nation’s capital Friday a festive and seasonal spirit.
He later singled out Nelson Mandela, the beloved South African anti-apartheid leader who died Thursday, for special gratitude.
“He blessed us with tremendous grace and unbelievable courage,” Obama said.
Before lighting the tree, Obama acknowledged the cold and rainy weather, and proposed an abbreviated countdown before flipping on the lights. “We’re going to start at 5; since it’s little wet, we shouldn’t start at 10,” he said.
As soon as the tree burst into color, singing diva Aretha Franklin took to the stage for a spirited version of “Joy to the World.”
Joining Obama for the 91st annual tree-lighting ceremony were first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and mother-in-law Marian Robinson.