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  • During the nineteenth century White House Christmases were not grand affairs. Some first families decorated the house with simple boughs of greens and wreaths. They often brought their own traditions with them and privately celebrated with family and friends.
  • The first known Christmas tree in the White House was placed upstairs in the Second Floor Oval Room (then used as a family parlor and library) in 1889 during the Benjamin Harrison administration. It was decorated with candles for the Harrison grandchildren.
  • Documentation suggests the first electric lights on a family tree were used in 1894 during the presidency of Grover Cleveland.
  • The Taft children—Robert, Helen, and Charlie—placed the first tree in the Blue Room on the State Floor in 1912. President William Howard Taft and First Lady Helen Taft were away on a trip to Panama, so the Christmas tree was a surprise for the seven young Laughlin and Herron cousins, who were guests at the White House.
  • Maitre d’ and butler Alonzo Fields recalled President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cherished Christmas family tradition in his memoir, 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’ 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.”
  • First Lady Mamie Eisenhower was the first to place a Christmas tree in the Blue Room of the White House consistently.
  • First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room in 1961. That year, the tree was decorated with ornamental toys, birds, angels, and characters from the “Nutcracker Suite” ballet.
  • Since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association has held a national competition for the official White House Blue Room tree. To qualify, growers must win their state or regional competitions. Being named National Grand Champion is a major achievement.
  • Since 1967, an eighteenth-century Neapolitan crèche has been on display in the East Room of the White House. It was donated by Charles and Jane Engelhard of Far Hills, New Jersey.
  • In 1969, White House Assistant Executive Chef Hans Raffert created a traditional German A-frame gingerbread house for the Nixon’s first Christmas in the White House. This became an annual tradition during the Richard Nixon administration and continues today.
  • The first cranberry tree was put on display in the Red Room in 1975 during the Gerald R. Ford administration.

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