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Biden lights the National Christmas Tree, taking his turn to bring holiday spirit to Washington

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was President Joe Biden ‘s turn to bring some holiday spirit to the U.S. capital.

The president and his wife, Jill, participated Thursday in the annual tradition of lighting the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse, an area known as President’s Park, on the south side of the White House.

“Merry Christmas, everyone,” Biden said after he counted down from five and the towering tree lit up in a burst of holiday color.

Biden said the White House holiday theme of “wonder, magic and joy” captures the essence of Christmas, which he said is about rediscovering simple joys like familiar songs and favorite recipes, performing acts of kindness, and strengthening bonds with family and friends as well as with one’s faith.

The holidays are also about remembering that “we’re a great nation because we’re a good people. That’s what I see all across America, including tonight,” he said.

“Let’s remember how blessed we are as Americans for the gift that is our nation,” Biden concluded.

This year’s tree is a 40-foot (12-meter) Norway spruce from West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest.

There was a moment’s doubt earlier this week about whether the 101-year-old tradition would go ahead as planned after the tree was felled by strong gusty winds Tuesday. But the tree was upright again within hours after a cable securing it was replaced, according to the National Park Service.

The tree lighting ceremony is an annual White House holiday tradition with a countdown and musical performances. The Norway spruce was planted about two weeks ago, replacing an older tree that the park service said had developed a fungal disease that caused its needles to turn brown and fall off.

None of the 58 smaller trees surrounding the National Christmas Tree was damaged. About 20 ornaments fell from the tree but did not break. The NPS announced Wednesday that crews are “installing concrete blocks and additional cables to further secure the tree.”

Country singer Mickey Guyton was the ceremony’s host, with musical performances by Dionne Warwick, St. Vincent, Joe Walsh, Darren Criss and others. CBS will broadcast the program on Dec. 15.

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, also attended.

On Monday, the first lady helped open Washington’s holiday season by unveiling the White House holiday decorations. On Wednesday, she opened a holiday ice rink on the South Lawn for children to skate and play hockey throughout December.

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Associated Press writer Ashraf Khalil contributed to this report.

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