Main Content

  • Nineteenth century White House Christmas celebrations were not grand state affairs but usually simple family events. The first family decorated the house with greens and there were celebrations on the holiday.
  • The first White House Christmas party was held in December 1800. President and Mrs. Adams gave it for their four-year-old granddaughter Suzannah, who was living with them. The Adams invited the children of "official" Washington to the party.
  • One of the most elaborate children's Christmas parties was President Andrew Jackson's "frolic" for the children of his household in 1834. This party included games, dancing, a grand dinner, and ended with an indoor "snowball fight" with specially made cotton balls.
  • The first Christmas tree in the White House was placed in the second floor Yellow Oval Room (then used as a family parlor and library) in 1889 (Benjamin Harrison administration). It was decorated with candles, toys, etc. for the Harrison grandchildren.

The Cleveland Family tree decorated with red, white and blue electric light bulbs, delighted the president's young daughters. It was placed in the second floor Oval Room of the White House in 1894.

The White House Historical Association
  • The first electric lights on a family tree were used in 1894 during the presidency of Grover Cleveland. (Electricity dates to 1891 in the White House).
  • President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt hosted a "carnival" during the 1903 Christmas season for 500 children including dinner, dancing, musical entertainment, souvenirs, and a special treat in the form of ice cream formed in the shape of Santa and other Christmas novelties. President Roosevelt, an avowed conservationist, did not approve of cutting trees for Christmas decorations. However, his son Archie defied the ban and smuggled in a small tree that was decorated and hidden in a closet in the upstairs sewing room.
  • The Taft children placed the first tree on the State floor in the Blue Room in 1909. The Wilsons continued to have a tree in the Blue Room.
  • President Calvin Coolidge was the first chief executive to preside over the National Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in 1923. Today, the Christmas Pageant of Peace, a major event held annually on the Ellipse since 1954, includes the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. This celebration respects the holiday worship of all faiths and features the appearance of the first family to light the tree and host live musical and dance performances.
  • First Lady Lou Henry Hoover established the custom of decorating an official tree in the White House in 1929. Since that time, the honor of trimming the Christmas tree on the state floor has belonged to our first ladies. The tree stands in the oval Blue Room, an elegant space honored as the center of holiday splendor.

In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. She decorated a tree placed in the oval Blue Room with ornamental toys, birds and angels modeled after Petr Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" ballet.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
  • In 1961 First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. That year the tree was decorated with ornamental toys, birds, angels and characters from the "Nutcracker Suite" ballet. For the American Flowers Tree in 1969, First Lady Patricia Nixon arranged for disabled workers in Florida to make velvet and satin balls featuring each states official flower.
  • The record for the number of trees in the White House was held for many years by the Eisenhower administration when 26 trees filled every floor of the house. That mark has been eclipsed on several occasions in recent times, including the Clinton administration's 36 trees in the 1997 theme of "Santa's Workshop," and the 2008 White House Christmas decorations of the Bush administration that included 27 trees as part of a theme of "A Red, White and Blue Christmas."
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt always read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to his family on Christmas Eve.
  • Beginning in 1961, in the Kennedy administration, themes have been selected for the Blue Room tree. That year was decorated with objects depicting characters and toys from the "Nutcracker Suite" ballet.
  • Since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association has held a competition for the White House Blue Room tree.
  • Over her eight White House holiday seasons, First Lady Hillary Clinton showcased the talents of America's artistic communities. First Lady Laura Bush varied the decorations, including the themes of "All Creatures Grand and Small in 2002" highlighting her love of animals and the importance of pets to White House history and a patriotic "A Red, White and Blue Christmas" in 2008. The theme had been inspired by letters from Americans that began arriving after September 11th suggesting the White House have a red, white and blue Christmas. First Lady Michelle Obama announced the 2010 White House Christmas theme of "Simple Gifts" and she explained, "The greatest blessings of all are the ones that don't cost a thing: the time that we spend with our loved ones, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans and the joy we feel from reaching out to those in need."

You Might Also Like