The first National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony took place in 1923. The ceremony was intended to foster a sense of national unity around the Holiday season, but 1973 was different. President Richard Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal and dealing with an energy crisis, used the ceremony as a platform for political theater. As the President talked up his administration's achievements and legislative agenda for the coming year, an impromptu political rally in support of the President broke out.
Not only were the President's remarks different in nature, the tree was as well. As Americans across the country had to tighten their belts with regards to energy, the energy crisis prompted organizers to significantly reduce the number of lights upon the tree itself as well as begin a new tradition of using a living, rather than cut, National Christmas Tree.