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Clinton, Santa Light Christmas Tree

December 5, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton shared the holiday stage with Santa Claus and dancing snowmen as he helped two children light the national Christmas tree and officially start the festive season Thursday.

``We’ve been doing this now for 85 years. For Hillary and me, Christmas begins with this wonderful ceremony,″ the president said before leading a 3-2-1 countdown for Washington Campfire Girl Whitney Symone Powell and Joseph Sherren, a Campfire Boy from Mitchellville, Md., to hit the switch.

Glistening blue-and-white lights sprang to life over the 40-foot-tall Colorado blue spruce.

On a mild, drizzly winter evening, actor Gregory Peck served as master of ceremonies for a program that included country singer Lorrie Morgan, Motown vocalist Martha Reeves, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir, the Coast Guard Band, a chorus of dancing snowmen called The Snowdens and Santa _ played by television actor Robert Prosky.

Tenor Placido Domingo also sang but apologized in advance for missed notes. ``I have a terrible cold, but I wouldn’t miss this for anything in the world,″ he said.

Domingo sang an inspired version of ``White Christmas,″ with backing from the Shenandoah Valley choir, and a hymn he dedicated to the ``bambino,″ Jesus Christ.

Morgan, wearing a flowing red dress, sang ``Let it Snow″ as raindrops fell on her. ``Let it snow _ and it might,″ she joked.

Clinton also joked about the rainy weather, saying: ``I think in the spirit of Christmas the best gift I could give is a very brief Christmas message.″

The national Christmas tree has stood on the ellipse of the Mall between the White House and Washington Monument since 1978, when it was transplanted there from a farm in York, Pa.

Surrounded by 56 smaller trees representing the states and territories, the centerpiece spruce is lit with the help of solar power.

President Woodrow Wilson presided over the first lighting of a national tree on Christmas Eve, 1913. That tree was at the Capitol, at the far end of the Mall, and 1,000 singers and the U.S. Marine Band helped in the lighting ceremony.

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