- Nineteenth century White House Christmas celebrations were not grand affairs and the first family usually decorated the house simply with boughs of greens and wreaths.
- 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.
- Not all White House families after the Harrisons set up interior Christmas trees. The tradition depended on the presence of young children or grandchildren and if the first families were in residence at the White House during the holiday.
- 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).
- The Taft children placed the first tree on the State floor in the Blue Room in 1912. President and Mrs. Taft were away on a trip to Panama, so the Christmas tree was a surprise for the seven young children of Mrs. Taft’s brother and sister, John W. Herron and Lucy Laughlin, who with their parents were guests at the White House.
- President Calvin Coolidge was the first chief executive to preside over the National Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in 1923.
- First Lady Lou Henry Hoover started the as yet unbroken custom of a Blue Room tree. In 1929, she oversaw the decoration of the first "official" tree. Since that time, the honor of trimming the principle White House Christmas tree has belonged to our first ladies.
- Maitre d' and butler Alonzo Fields, recalled a cherished Christmas tradition of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family in My 21 Years in the White House (1960): “They always braved the hazards of fire by having a Christmas tree lighted with candles in the East Hall. The family tradition included reading of Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol by the president. The gathering of the family with the President and Mrs. Roosevelt, the president's mother, the children and grandchildren made a comely family group of four generations.”
- 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."
- 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 official White House Blue Room tree. To qualify for the national contest, growers must first win their state or regional competitions, so being named National Grand Champion is a major achievement.
White House Blue Room Christmas Trees by State of Origin Since 19611
- North Carolina: 13
- Pennsylvania: 10
- Wisconsin: 8
- Washington: 7
- West Virginia: 4
- Ohio: 3
- Indiana: 2
- Michigan: 2
- New York: 2
- Oregon: 2
- Massachusetts: 1
- Missouri: 1
- Vermont: 1
- Anonymously Donated from New England: 1
- Unknown: 1
Types of Blue Room Christmas Tress by Number of Occurrences Since 1961*
- Firs: 51
- Spruces: 7
- Pines: 1
1 Includes Christmas 2015. Although previous presidential administrations displayed Christmas trees indoors, it was First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy who established the tradition of displaying a thematically decorated Blue Room Christmas tree in 1961. The tradition was interrupted twice. In 1962, the tree was displayed in the Entrance Hall instead of the Blue Room because of renovation work. In 1969, First Lady Patricia Nixon chose the Entrance Hall again to make the tree more visible.
Compiled by the White House Historical Association. Please credit the Association by its full name when using this as background material. Specific sources consulted available upon request.
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About the white house historical association
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy envisioned a restored White House that conveyed a sense of history through its decorative and fine arts. She sought to inspire Americans, especially children, to explore and engage with American history and its presidents. In 1961, the White House Historical Association was established to support her vision to preserve and share the Executive Mansion’s legacy for generations to come. Supported entirely by private resources, the Association’s mission is to assist in the preservation of the state and public rooms, fund acquisitions for the White House permanent collection, and educate the public on the history of the White House. Since its founding, the Association has given more than $50 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission.
To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit WhiteHouseHistory.org.
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