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‘Star of Peace’ Atop National Christmas Tree

December 8, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The summit has brought the Christmas season a few days early to the nation’s capital, and President Reagan says the star atop the newly lit National Christmas Tree will serve to remind him and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev of their common quest for peace.

A 5-year-old cystic fibrosis victim helped Reagan light the towering spruce Monday night, just two hours after the Soviet jet bearing Gorbachev and his party landed for today’s talks.

″The lighting of the National Christmas Tree, with its star of peace atop, could not come at a more symbolic moment,″ Reagan said before his small companion, Tommy Valente of Jackson, N.J., switched on the tree’s lights from the balcony on the south side of the White House.

The 35-foot-tall Colorado spruce stood a few hundred yards away on the Ellipse, where 12,500 people had gathered for the festivities.

Gorbachev’s motorcade drove by the Ellipse while the tree was still dark. Reagan said he hoped the Soviet leader was watching the ceremony by television at the Soviet Embassy, a few blocks north of the White House.

″I’d like him to see what we’re celebrating, because for us Christmas celebrates the cause of peace on earth, goodwill toward men,″ said Reagan.

″I cannot think of a better spirit in which to begin the meetings of the next several days. As a small reminder of that spirit, a star of peace atop the National Christmas Tree will be lit day and night during the time our Soviet guests are here. And as we look out from the White House during our discussions, let the star remind us why we’ve gathered and what we seek.″

The ceremony, normally held on the second Thursday in December, came three days early this year to accommodate the superpower summit.

Reagan, lighting his seventh National Christmas Tree, was continuing a presidential tradition begun 64 years ago by Calvin Coolidge. The lights have shone from a National Christmas Tree every December since then, except in 1979 and 1980, when President Jimmy Carter kept all but the topmost ornament dark while Americans were held hostage in Iran.

Tommy Valente’s appearance was arranged by the New York-based Star Light Foundation, which grants wishes for ill children.

After the ceremony, when reporters asked if he wanted a second arms control treaty for a Christmas gift, the president laughed and said, ″I’ll take what we’re going to have.″

This is the same National Christmas Tree that was transplanted from Pennsylvania to the Ellipse in 1978. Atop it is a three-dimensional, five- pointed star with a large white globe in the center. The tree is blanketed with more than 4,000 lights that glow and fade from red to white to blue.

The decorations are white and silver garlands and round, white ornaments with a filigree pattern.

The big tree is surrounded by 57 smaller, decorated trees - one for each state and U.S. territory.

The lighting ceremony, known as the Christmas Pageant of Peace, is staged and sponsored by a non-profit group composed largely of local business executives. The National Park Service handles the decorating and other arrangements.

An hour-long musical show that preceded the tree lighting featured opera baritone Sherrill Miles, singer Patti Austin, the Air Force Band and the combined chorus of St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict from Collegeville, Minn. Also performing were the California Raisins, four dancers in leotards and burgundy raisin costumes who did their best to mimic the popular, animated raisins of commmercial fame.

Willard Scott, the rotund, jocular weatherman on NBC’s ″Today″ show, appeared in a Santa Claus suit, with no padding required. ″You like my red suit? This beats Gorbachev,″ Scott told the crowd.

It was a crisp, clear, perfect December evening, with the temperature dropping toward freezing as embers from a Yule log wafted over the crowd.

Just beyond the rim of trees and the pageant’s stables with reindeer and a creche, two television networks, CBS and NBC, have erected huge trailers with picture windows to allow their anchors to broadcast the summit news with the distant presidential mansion as a backdrop.

A continuing pageant will include nightly musical entertainment from Friday through Tuesday, Dec. 22, and the tree will remain lit through New Year’s Day. The pageant’s theme is ″Blessings″ in celebration of the bicentennial of the Constitution.

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