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Naval District Washington (NDW) officially began its holiday season with the annual tree lighting ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard (WNY) Dec. 7. Scores of guests attended the annual ceremony which included a reception, caroling, and a bonfire all hosted by Rear Adm. Markham Rich, commandant of Naval District Washington.

The evening began at the WNY Town Center, with food, drinks and children’s activities. Guests were also encouraged to decorate a smaller tree inside the Town Center during the event, including attaches who decorated with ornaments representative of their home countries. After recognizing the hard work of the event coordinators and staff, Rich offered warm welcomes to the crowd.

“I know we didn’t all come here tonight to hear me speak, so welcome everybody, thank you very much, looks like we’ve got a great night with lots of great people, so let’s get started.”

Throughout the chilly night, revelers sang carols up and down the streets of WNY accompanied by the U.S. Navy Band. The crowd made their way to officers’ residences on the yard to spread holiday cheer before ending up in Admiral Leutze Park, where the official NDW tree was prepared and a bonfire was offered to warm guests during the ceremony. After a brief countdown from the crowd, the tree was lit, the switch being thrown by the commandant’s niece.

“This is such a great tradition that the whole community really enjoys,” said Bert Nash, occupational safety and health specialist for the Naval Support Activity Washington Safety Office. “It lets everyone, civilian, military, contractor and kids alike the chance to see the Yard really decked out for the season and get in the spirit.”

Nash commented that the safety office and fire department participate in the event every year to ensure that the event runs smoothly and safely, particularly with the bonfire.

“The bonfire is such a big part of the celebration,” said Nash, “It’s almost as big a part of the event as the tree itself, and we want to make sure that everything goes safely and according to plan, just like in all holiday planning.”

The event is a decades-long tradition of NDW and WNY. While there is no clear indication as to when the event began formally, some speculate that the tree lighting began after the Chief of Naval Operations’ (CNO) official residence was moved to Quarters A at the Washington Navy Yard in 1974. Though few can dispute how large a part of the holiday season it has become to the installation and region as a whole.

“I believe the tree lighting marks the formal beginning of the holiday season here in NDW,” said Stuart McLean, NDW director of ceremonies and special events. “The lights and decorations on the tree at Leutze Park and the multicolored lights on Display Ship Barry are reminders of special times with family and friends, but are also reminders that many of our shipmates will be on watch around the world away from their families and friends during the holidays.”

The tree will be on display at WNY for the remainder of the holiday season. To see photos from the Tree Lighting ceremony, please visit NDW’s Facebook page at