WASHINGTON – As the sun set Dec. 2,a slight touch of winter was in the air. On the Ellipse,just south of the White House,thousands of families – tourists and locals – sipped hot chocolate and waited for the 50th Christmas Pageant of Peace to begin.
Colorful clowns roamed the aisles between plastic chairs. Bugs Bunny,in a tux,happily greeted children with Tweetie by his side. The Baltimore Orioles' mascot showed up in a Santa coat,and a live Christmas tree danced through the crowd.
As the “President's Own” United States Marine Band played “Hail to the Chief” and the Pageant of Peace began,President and Bush and his wife,Laura,took their seats behind a shield of bullet proof glass with stiff security visible in every direction – an indication that peace has not yet been achieved.
“This Christmas,as loved ones come together,some in our military are separated from family by the call of duty,a long way from home,” Bush said.
He watched as the first lady and Brownies Nicole Mastracchio and Clara Pitts,of Chantilly,Va.,threw the switch to light the tree.
The pageant,which began in 1954 to accompany the lighting of the national Christmas tree,spreads the message of peace worldwide. Print and broadcast reporters from around the world covered the pageant.
But it was those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan who were the focus of many performers.
“I want our messages here to be able to go to them and know they are not alone,” said Carl Tanner,a tenor from Arlington,Va.,who sang Christmas carols. “They may be fighting alone there,but truly they're in our hearts and we are with them.”
Country music stars Connie Smith; her husband,Marty Stuart,and his band,the Fabulous Superlatives; American Idol star Kimberly Locke; Darren Holden,star of the musical “Movin' Out;” and the West Tennessee Youth Choir also performed.
Stuart and Smith,who have been in the limelight for more than 30 years,wrote a song for the event titled “Peaceful World.” They said their travels taught them to appreciate home.
“Peace is something,as Americans,I take for granted because it's always been there,” Stuart said. “We've always had our troops to go out and stand up for us. Just by going to other countries around the world,even the countries with freedom and wealth,you realize that our peace is a very precious thing.”