You'll Need to Win the Lottery to Attend This Year’s National Christmas Tree Lighting

The National Christmas Tree is ceremonially lighted each year on the Ellipse behind the White House. NPS photo.

People who want to attend this year’s National Christmas Tree lighting on December 3 -- invited VIPs excepted, of course -- will need to score tickets distributed to the general public by lottery.

A cherished tradition dating to 1923 has the President lighting the National Christmas Tree each year during the holiday season. This year the lighting ceremony, which is co-produced by the National Park Service and the National Park Trust, will take place December 3 at 5:00 p.m. on the Ellipse behind the White House. The lighting of the tree, a living blue spruce from Pennsylvania that was planted on the Ellipse many years ago, will not only delight the gathered multitude, but also trigger a month-long Pageant of Peace celebration featuring the usual impressive array of holiday-themed activities and big-name entertainment.

Complimenting the National Christmas Tree is the Pathway of Peace, which features 56 lighted smaller trees – one for each state, the five territories, and the District of Columbia.

The annual Christmas tree lighting is a hugely popular event, and that’s a huge problem. The site simply can’t accommodate all the people who want to be there.

In the past, access has been rationed on a first-come, first-served basis. If you didn’t get one of the VIP invitations, you had to show up very early, get in line with thousands of others, and wait and wait and wait. Now that’s about to change. This year, for the first time ever, a lottery system will be used to allocate lighting ceremony tickets to the general public.

The lottery system, which offers both online and phone-in options for entry, will distribute 9,800 tickets, including 2,800 seated tickets and 7,000 standing room ones. There’s no charge for tickets.

Here are the application details for the online lottery as spelled out at the National Christmas Tree Program website:

The new online lottery will be available beginning at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) on Wednesday, November 4th (or 11:01 p.m. Central Standard Time (CST), 10:01p.m. Mountain Standard Time (MST) and 9:01 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (PST) on Tuesday, November 3rd). The ticket lottery remains open through 11:59 p.m. EST on Friday, November 6th (or 10:59 p.m. CST, 9:59 p.m. MST and 8:59 p.m. PST on Friday evening, November 6th), by going to this site and following the link to the online ticket lottery application page at this site.

[Note that the application period actually begins the evening of Tuesday, November 3, for those in the PST time zone. This applies to both online and phone applications.]

People who cannot apply online can phone 877-444-6777 (or for TDD 877-833-6777) to apply during the three-day open period.

Beginning November 9, ticket seekers may check the status of their request online or through the call center. Lottery entrants who submitted their requests online will be notified via email. Successful ticket seekers who applied by phone will receive a notice sent via U.S. Mail.

Tickets will be mailed to lucky entrants by November 15.

Postscript: Don’t despair if you can’t score tickets to the lighting ceremony. It will be nationally televised, so just check your TV guide as the grand day approaches. After the lighting ceremony, National Mall visitors won’t need a ticket to see the National Christmas Tree and the Pathway of Peace. They’re illuminated each evening from dusk until 11 p.m. through January 1st. There will also be seasonal displays (a Yule log, Santa’s Workshop, and a large-scale model train) as well as choir and dance performances on the Ellipse stage each evening (6:00 - 8:30 p.m. weeknights, and 4:00 - 8:30 p.m. weekends).