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Dec 11, 2017 Washington, D.C. —
December 11, 2017 (Washington, D.C.) — Holidays at the White House is brought to life in the new holiday episode of The 1600 Sessions series. In “Holidays at the White House,” White House Historical Association President Stewart McLaurin talks with former White House Chief Usher Gary Walters, author Jennifer Pickens, and former White House Executive Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier about the special events and traditions that color celebrations for first families and guests at the White House during the holiday season.
Gary Walters served as Chief Usher under four administrations and talks with Stewart about the Blue Room Christmas tree, which is donated each year by the National Christmas Tree Growers Association: “The National Park Service has a horse-drawn carriage, and the tree is loaded onto the carriage and brought to the North Portico, where the First Lady comes out and receives the tree from the donor.” The tree is then decorated according to themes that are picked months in advance.
Jennifer Pickens, author of Christmas at the White House, discusses the history of White House Christmas decorations and the First Lady’s role in decorating the historic residence. “President Harrison and First Lady Caroline Harrison were the first to have a Christmas tree in the White House...it wasn’t all ribbons and ornaments, but it reflected the Christmas trees that American families would have had in their homes at the time.” Pickens describes how the First Lady would often use decorations to champion initiatives: Lady Bird Johnson themed her decorations with nature and flowers to highlight her Keep America Beautiful campaign, and Barbara and Laura Bush both used books in their decorations to highlight their literacy initiatives. “Ultimately, the theme is up to the First Lady, so it’s 100% a reflection of her,” Pickens states.
Roland Mesnier, who served as Executive Pastry Chef to five presidents, provides a first-hand account of the more delicious traditions during the holidays. Preparations for the holiday begin in June, as decorations and desserts are made and frozen until December, when around 120,000 pieces of cakes and cookies are baked for the holiday season. Chef Mesnier recalls the tradition of the White House Gingerbread house and how it became personal for first families: “I decided to go to a different design and practically make the childhood home of the president and first lady, that's what really touched them every time. Because to see that house there, where they grew up, where they were born, truly became very touching.”
The 1600 Sessions In this fascinating podcast series, White House Historical Association President Stewart McLaurin interviews luminaries, historians, and eyewitnesses to history about America’s most famous residence and office—the White House. Each episode includes a prominent guest or guests to discuss varying facets of White House history, including insights from former staff and many other topical issues.
To learn more about The White House Historical Association, please visit www.whitehousehistory.org.
For Media: B-roll footage of interviews available for use upon request. Additional resources are available on the Association’s press room WhiteHouseHistory.org/press.
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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 nonprofit, nonpartisan 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.