WASHINGTON - As he and his family flipped the switch to light the National Christmas Tree on Thursday night, President Obama said he hopes the tree lasts longer than its predecessor, which died after just a year.
"Our tree has been having a hard time recently. This is our third one in as many years," Obama said, noting that a tree that stood near the White House for more than three decades was lost in a storm early last year. Its replacement didn't take hold.
"It just goes to show, nobody's job is safe here in Washington," Obama joked.
One month after winning reelection, Obama said he is optimistic about the latest tree, a 28-foot blue spruce that was transplanted just days before Hurricane Sandy and made it through the storm seemingly unharmed.
Obama was joined at the 90th annual tree-lighting ceremony by Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and mother-in-law Marian Robinson.
The music-filled ceremony was hosted by actor Neil Patrick Harris of CBS's How I Met Your Mother, who bantered with the president and joked with actor Rico Rodriguez of ABC's Modern Family about joining the Obamas in Hawaii this Christmas.
Singers Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Ledisi, Jason Mraz, Colbie Caillat, and James Taylor, along with the band The Fray, performed Christmas songs before a crowd of about 17,000 on the Ellipse, a park that sits between the White House and the National Mall.
Isaac Slade, lead singer of The Fray, injected a note of politics into the family-friendly event. As he sang "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," Slade said he wasn't sure if Obama had been naughty or nice. He urged the president to play golf with Republicans.
"Get out there and bridge the gap," Slade instructed Obama, referring to the dispute between the president and GOP congressional leaders over talks to avert the fiscal cliff - expiring tax cuts and automatic spending cuts set to begin at the end of the year.
The president did not appear to acknowledge Slade's comment.
Obama said in a brief speech that he has been inspired by Americans' response to Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the Northeast in late October.