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Obama family presides over lighting of national Christmas tree

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) counts down as daughter Sasha (2nd L), prepares to light the National Christmas Tree next to her sister Mali
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) counts down as daughter Sasha (2nd L), prepares to light the National Christmas Tree next to her sister Mali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and his family presided over the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on Thursday and used the holiday setting to celebrate the "heroism" of people who persevered through Superstorm Sandy earlier this year.

Obama, who won re-election last month in part because of his response to the deadly storm, began his remarks with a joke about the latest tree to take on national status in Washington.

"Our tree has been having a hard time recently - this is our third one in as many years. Our longstanding tree was lost in a storm, and then its replacement didn't take hold. It just goes to show, nobody's job is safe here in Washington," he said to laughter from the outdoor crowd not far from the White House.

"But I feel good about this one. It was planted just days before Hurricane Sandy, and it made it through the storm in one piece," he said.

Obama and his family led a countdown before the lights on the big tree turned on.

The president noted that for many people affected by the storm, the holidays would be hard.

"Now, we know that some of our neighbors to the north saw a more ruthless and destructive Sandy. And this holiday season is especially difficult for families who lost everything in the storm," he said.

"But it's also a time for us to be grateful for the heroism and perseverance of ordinary men and women in the storm's path who've showed us that Americans will always be stronger than the challenges that we face," Obama said.

Actor Neil Patrick Harris hosted the event, which included performances by Colbie Caillat, The Fray, Jason Mraz and James Taylor. It was the 90th National Christmas Tree lighting, according to the National Park Foundation.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; editing by Todd Eastham)

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