Daily Archives: December 21, 2009

Welcome to 44’D’s Happy Holiday’s Special

We here at The 44 Diaries would like to say Thank You for participating in our blog and we hope that you all have a happy holiday and a prosperous new year. We also hope that you get to spend plenty of time with the people you love the most…

Please note: We will be keeping this up all week in celebration, but will be posting political news in the top section next to ‘Home’.


History of Christmas




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Origins and Traditions of Hanukkah

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Celebrating Kwanzaa



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Santa Claus Through History



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Famous and Not-So Famous Christmas Movies List

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The History of Christmas at the White House 1789-2009

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Twenty-Five Days of Christmas Music Videos

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Christmas Around the World



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Fun Filled Christmas Facts



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Christmas in the Age of Dickens

Christmas in the Age of Dickens



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Amazing Christmas Truce of 1914



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Holiday Season at the White House with the Obama’s 2009




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The History of Christmas

People all over the world celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th. But why is the Nativity marked by gift giving, and was He really born on that day? And just where did the Christmas tree come from? Take an enchanting tour through the history of this beloved holiday and trace the origins of its enduring traditions. Journey back to the earliest celebrations when the infant religion embraced pagan solstice festivals like the Roman Saturnalia and turned them into a commemoration of Jesus’ birth. Learn how Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree to the English-speaking world in 1841, and discover how British settlers in the New World transformed the patron saint of children into jolly old St. Nick.

We’re going to explore the origin of Christmas and how it came to be the way we know it today.

An Ancient Holiday

Norse God Oden

The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year.

The Yule Log

The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish. Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.
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Saturnalia

Ancient Romans Celebrating Saturnalia

In Rome, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north, Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture—was celebrated. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Business and schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra’s birthday was the most sacred day of the year.

In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.

Lord of Misrule

By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras. Each year, a beggar or student would be crowned the “lord of misrule” and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief. Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined “debt” to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.
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An Outlaw Christmas

In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, canceled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday.

The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.

After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.
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Christmas Reinvented

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. But what about the 1800s peaked American interest in the holiday?

The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season. In 1828, the New York city council instituted the city’s first police force in response to a Christmas riot. This catalyzed certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Christmas was celebrated in America.

In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. The sketches feature a squire who invited the peasants into his home for the holiday. In contrast to the problems faced in American society, the two groups mingled effortlessly. In Irving’s mind, Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status. Irving’s fictitious celebrants enjoyed “ancient customs,” including the crowning of a Lord of Misrule. Irving’s book, however, was not based on any holiday celebration he had attended – in fact, many historians say that Irving’s account actually “invented” tradition by implying that it described the true customs of the season.
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A Christmas Carol

Also around this time, English author Charles Dickens created the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story’s message-the importance of charity and good will towards all humankind-struck a powerful chord in the United States and England and showed members of Victorian society the benefits of celebrating the holiday.

1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, with Clement Clarke Moore, helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.

The family was also becoming less disciplined and more sensitive to the emotional needs of children during the early 1800s. Christmas provided families with a day when they could lavish attention-and gifts-on their children without appearing to “spoil” them.

As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving.

Although most families quickly bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, Americans had really re-invented a holiday to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation.

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Origins and Traditions of Hanukkah

Hanukkah (also known as Chanukah, Hanukah, Hannuka and the Festival of Lights) is an eight-day Jewish holiday that usually takes place between late November and late December. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees, a Jewish rebel army, over the Syrians in 165 B.C.E., as well as the subsequent re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Jews around the world celebrate with eight nights of merriment. Traditions include lighting the menorah, exchanging gifts and enjoying treats cooked in oil.

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The History of Hanukkah

Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights, starting on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar (which is November-December on the Gregorian calendar). In Hebrew, the word “Hanukkah” means “dedication.”

The holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews’ 165 B.C.E. victory over the Hellenist Syrians. Antiochus, the Greek King of Syria, outlawed Jewish rituals and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods.

In 168 B.C.E. the Jews’ holy Temple was seized and dedicated to the worship of Zeus.

Some Jews were afraid of the Greek soldiers and obeyed them, but most were angry and decided to fight back.

The fighting began in Modiin, a village not far from Jerusalem. A Greek officer and soldiers assembled the villagers, asking them to bow to an idol and eat the flesh of a pig, activities forbidden to Jews. The officer asked Mattathias, a Jewish High Priest, to take part in the ceremony. He refused, and another villager stepped forward and offered to do it instead. Mattathias became outraged, took out his sword and killed the man, then killed the officer. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked and killed the soldiers. Mattathias’ family went into hiding in the nearby mountains, where many other Jews who wanted to fight the Greeks joined them. They attacked the Greek soldiers whenever possible.

Judah Maccabee and his soldiers went to the holy Temple, and were saddened that many things were missing or broken, including the golden menorah. They cleaned and repaired the Temple, and when they were finished, they decided to have a big dedication ceremony. For the celebration, the Maccabees wanted to light the menorah. They looked everywhere for oil, and found a small flask that contained only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. This gave them enough time to obtain new oil to keep the menorah lit. Today Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days by lighting candles in a menorah every night, thus commemorating the eight-day miracle.

Hanukkah Traditions

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The Menorah
On each night of Hanukkah, the menorah is lit to commemorate a miracle which occurred after the Jews proclaimed victory over the Syrian armies in 165 B.C.E. When Jews came to rededicate the Temple-which had been defiled by the Syrians-they found only one small flask of oil with which to light the menorah. This flask contained only enough oil for one day, yet the lamp burned for eight days (by which time a fresh supply of oil was obtained).

  • In Israel, the Hanukkah menorah is called the Hanukiyah
    Menorahs come in all shapes and sizes. The only requirement is that the flames are separated enough so that they will not look too big and resemble a pagan bonfire.

  • Ancient menorahs were made of clay. They consisted of small, pearl shaped vessels, each with its own wick, which were arranged side-by-side.
  • Today’s menorah, which stands on a base from which the branches sprout, resembles the holy Temple’s menorah and started to appear towards the end of the Middle Ages.

Latkes at Hanukkah

Classic Potato Latkes

Classic Potato Latkes

The most popular themes throughout the Hanukkah dishes are the use of oil. The oil reminds us of the oil which burned eight days instead of one. Latkes are potato pancakes made from grated potatoes mixed with eggs, onions, and flour, then fried in vegetable oil. The texture is crispy on the outside and tender within. They’re served hot and often dipped in apple sauce or sour cream. The Maccabbee soliders ate latkes made from cheese, vegetables, or fruits which were brought to them on the battlefields. However, they didn’t eat potato latkes, as potatoes weren’t available until the 16th century.

Hanukkah Dreidel
The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter inscribed on each side. In America the letters stand for “A Great Miracle Happened There“. In Israel the letters mean “A Miracle Happened Here“. Each player receives a given number of coins or candy pieces. Before spinning the dreidel, each player puts a fixed proportion of the amount received into the “kupah” or kitty. Each player in turn spins the dreidel. When the dreidel falls, it will fall on one of the 4 letters. According to the letter, the following will happen: Nun – no win / no lose Gimmel – take all (from the kitty) Heh – take half (from the kitty) Peh or Shin – lose (what you deposited) The game continues until players have run out of ‘funds’ or it is agreed to stop (anyone losing all funds is out of the game). The dreidel game was popular during the rule of Antiochus before the Maccabees’ revolt, a time when soldiers executed any Jews who were caught practicing their religion. When pious Jews gathered to study the Torah, they had the top ready in case they heard soliders approaching. If the soldiers appeared, they would hide the holy scriptures and pretend to play with the dreidl. In Israel the dreidel is called a sivivon. The yiddish word “dreidel” is derived from the German word “drehen“, or “turn“.

Sufganiyot – Hanukkah Jelly Donuts
Sufganiyot, fried foods recall the oil that burned in the temple

Sufganiyot, fried foods recall the oil that burned in the temple

Sufganiyot are jelly doughnuts without the hole. They’re dropped into hot oil without being shaped and come out in odd, funny shapes, then covered in powdered sugar and/or cinnamon. Sufganiyot are particularly popular in Israel, where they are sold on stands in the streets over a month before Hanukkah begins. Some great recipes can be found here.

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Helpful Information and Related Articles

The White House Hanukkah Celebration 2009
Hanukkah Food and Entertaining
Hanukkah Decorating
Hanukkah Gifts and Cards
Hanukkah Games and Songs


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Celebrating Kwanzaa

The History of Kwanzaa

Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community. He founded US, a cultural organization, and started to research African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Karenga combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa.

The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), then one of the seven principles is discussed. The principles, called the Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili) are values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community among African-Americans. Kwanzaa also has seven basic symbols which represent values and concepts reflective of African culture. Click here for the symbols. An African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.

The candle-lighting ceremony each evening provides the opportunity to gather and discuss the meaning of Kwanzaa. The first night, the black candle in the center is lit (and the principle of umoja/unity is discussed). One candle is lit each evening and the appropriate principle is discussed.

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The Seven Principles

The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba are a set of ideals created by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Each day of Kwanzaa emphasizes a different principle.

Unity Umoja (oo–MO–jah)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Self-determination Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

Collective Work and Responsibility Ujima (oo–GEE–mah)
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

Cooperative Economics Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Purpose Nia (nee–YAH)
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Creativity Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah)
To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Faith Imani (ee–MAH–nee)
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

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The Seven Symbols

Mazao Fruits, Nuts, and Vegetables
Mazao, the crops (fruits, nuts, and vegetables), symbolizes work and the basis of the holiday. It represents the historical foundation for Kwanzaa, the gathering of the people that is patterned after African harvest festivals in which joy, sharing, unity, and thanksgiving are the fruits of collective planning and work. Since the family is the basic social and economic center of every civilization, the celebration bonded family members, reaffirming their commitment and responsibility to each other. In Africa the family may have included several generations of two or more nuclear families, as well as distant relatives. Ancient Africans didn’t care how large the family was, but there was only one leader – the oldest male of the strongest group. For this reason, an entire village may have been composed of one family. The family was a limb of a tribe that shared common customs, cultural traditions, and political unity and were supposedly descended from common ancestors. The tribe lived by traditions that provided continuity and identity. Tribal laws often determined the value system, laws, and customs encompassing birth, adolescence, marriage, parenthood, maturity, and death. Through personal sacrifice and hard work, the farmers sowed seeds that brought forth new plant life to feed the people and other animals of the earth. To demonstrate their mazao, celebrants of Kwanzaa place nuts, fruit, and vegetables, representing work, on the mkeka.

Mkeka Place Mat
Mkeka Place MatThe mkeka, made from straw or cloth, comes directly from Africa and expresses history, culture, and tradition. It symbolizes the historical and traditional foundation for us to stand on and build our lives because today stands on our yesterdays, just as the other symbols stand on the mkeka. In 1965, James Baldwin wrote: “For history is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the facts that we carry it within us, are consciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations.” During Kwanzaa, we study, recall, and reflect on our history and the role we are to play as a legacy to the future. Ancient societies made mats from straw, the dried seams of grains, sowed and reaped collectively. The weavers took the stalks and created household baskets and mats. Today, we buy mkeka that are made from Kente cloth, African mud cloth, and other textiles from various areas of the African continent. The mishumaa saba, the vibunzi, the mazao, the zawadi, the kikombe cha umoja, and the kinara are placed directly on the mkeka.

Vibunzi Ear of Corn
Ears of Corn The stalk of corn represents fertility and symbolizes that through the reproduction of children, the future hopes of the family are brought to life. One ear is called vibunzi, and two or more ears are called mihindi. Each ear symbolizes a child in the family, and thus one ear is placed on the mkeka for each child in the family. If there are no children in the home, two ears are still set on the mkeka because each person is responsible for the children of the community. During Kwanzaa, we take the love and nurturance that was heaped on us as children and selflessly return it to all children, especially the helpless, homeless, loveless ones in our community. Thus, the Nigerian proverb “It takes a whole village to raise a child” is realized in this symbol (vibunzi), since raising a child in Africa was a community affair, involving the tribal village, as well as the family. Good habits of respect for self and others, discipline, positive thinking, expectations, compassion, empathy, charity, and self-direction are learned in childhood from parents, from peers, and from experiences. Children are essential to Kwanzaa, for they are the future, the seed bearers that will carry cultural values and practices into the next generation. For this reason, children were cared for communally and individually within a tribal village. The biological family was ultimately responsible for raising its own children, but every person in the village was responsible for the safety and welfare of all the children.

Mishumaa Saba The Seven Candles
Candles are ceremonial objects with two primary purposes: to re-create symbolically the sun’s power and to provide light. The celebration of fire through candle burning is not limited to one particular group or country; it occurs everywhere. Mishumaa saba are the seven candles: three red, three green, and one black. The back candle symbolizes Umoja (unity), the basis of success, and is lit on December 26. The three green candles, representing Nia, Ujima, and Imani, are placed to the right of the Umoja candle, while the three red candles, representing Kujichagulia, Ujamaa, and Kuumba, are placed to the left of it. During Kwanzaa, on candle, representing one principle, is lit each day. Then the other candles are relit to give off more light and vision. The number of candles burning also indicate the principle that is being celebrated. The illuminating fire of the candles is a basic element of the universe, and every celebration and festival includes fire in some form. Fire’s mystique, like the sun, is irresistible and can destroy or create with its mesmerizing, frightening, mystifying power.

Mishumaa saba’s symbolic colors are from the red, black, and green flag (bendara) created by Marcus Garvey. The colors also represent African gods. Red is the color of Shango, the Yoruba god of fire, thunder, and lightning, who lives in the clouds and sends down his thunderbolt whenever he is angry or offended. It also represents the struggle for self-determination and freedom by people of color. Black is the people, the earth, the source of life, representing hope, creativity, and faith and denoting messages and the opening and closing of doors. Green represents the earth that sustains our lives and provides hope, divination, employment, and the fruits of the harvest

Kinara The Candleholder
The kinara is the center of the Kwanzaa setting and represents the original stalk from which we came: our ancestry. The kinara can be shape – straight lines, semicircles, or spirals – as long as the seven candles are separate and distinct, like a candelabra. Kinaras are made from all kinds of materials, and many celebrants create their own from fallen branches, wood, or other natural materials. The kinara symbolizes the ancestors, who were once earth bound; understand the problems of human life; and are willing to protect their progeny from danger, evil, and mistakes. In African festivals the ancestors are remembered and honored. The mishumaa saba are placed in the kinara.

Kikombe Cha Umoja The Unity Cup
The kikombe cha umoja is a special cup that is used to perform the libation (tambiko) ritual during the Karamu feast on the sixth day of Kwanzaa. In many African societies libation are poured for the living dead whose souls stay with the earth they tilled. The Ibo of Nigeria believe that to drink the last portion of a libation is to invite the wrath of the spirits and the ancestors; consequently, the last part of the libation belongs to the ancestors. During the Karamu feast, the kikombe cha umoja is passed to family member and guests, who drink from it to promote unity. Then, the eldest person present pours the libation (tambiko), usually water, juice, or wine, in the direction of the four winds – north, south, east, and west – to honor the ancestors. The eldest asks the gods and ancestors to share in the festivities and, in return, to bless all the people who are not at the gathering. After asking for this blessing, the elder pours the libation on the ground and the group says “Amen.” Large Kwanzaa gatherings may operate just as communion services in most churches, for which it is common for celebrants to have individual cups and to drink the libation together as a sign of unity. Several families may have a cup that is specifically for the ancestors, and everyone else has his or her own. The last few ounces of the libation are poured into the cup of the host or hostess, who sips it and then hands it to the oldest person in the group, who asks for the blessing.

Zawadi Gifts
When we celebrate Imani on the seventh day of Kwanzaa, we give meaningful zawadi (gifts) to encourage growth, self-determination, achievement, and success. We exchange the gifts with members of our immediate family, especially the children, to promote or reward accomplishments and commitments kept, as well as with our guests. Handmade gifts are encouraged to promote self-determination, purpose, and creativity and to avoid the chaos of shopping and conspicuous consumption during the December holiday season. A family may spend the year making kinaras or may create cards, dolls, or mkekas to give to their guests. Accepting a gift implies a moral obligation to fulfill the promise of the gift; it obliges the recipient to follow the training of the host. The gift cements social relationships, allowing the receiver to share the duties and the rights of a family member. Accepting a gift makes the receiver part of the family and promotes Umoja.

Excerpted from the book: The Complete Kwanzaa Celebrating Our Cultural Harvest. Copyright 1995 by Dorothy Winbush Riley. Reprinted with permission from HarperPerennial, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Santa Claus Through History

The man we know as Santa Claus has a history all his own. Keep reading to find information about the history of Santa Claus, his earliest origins, and how he became the jolly man in red that we know today.

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The Legend of St. Nicholas

Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas’s popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

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Sinter Klass Comes to New York

Sinter Klaas

Sinter Klaas

St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a “rascal” with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a “huge pair of Flemish trunk hose.”

Shopping Mall Santas

Gift-giving, mainly centered around children, has been an important part of the Christmas celebration since the holiday’s rejuvenation in the early 19th century. Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in 1820, and by the 1840s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus. In 1841, thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa Claus model. It was only a matter of time before stores began to attract children, and their parents, with the lure of a peek at a “live” Santa Claus. In the early 1890s, the Salvation Army needed money to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families. They began dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to solicit donations. Those familiar Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the street corners of American cities ever since.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters entitled, “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” Moore’s poem, which he was initially hesitant to publish due to the frivolous nature of its subject, is largely responsible for our modern image of Santa Claus as a “right jolly old elf” with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney with a mere nod of his head! Although some of Moore’s imagery was probably borrowed from other sources, his poem helped to popularize Christmas Eve – Santa Claus waiting for the children to get to sleep the now-familiar idea of a Santa Claus who flew from house to house on Christmas Eve – in “a miniature sleigh” led by eight flying reindeer, whom he also named – leaving presents for deserving children. “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” created a new and immediately popular American icon. In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create the first likeness that matches our modern image of Santa Claus. His cartoon, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly, depicted Santa as a rotund, cheerful man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children. It is Nast who gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves, and his wife, Mrs. Claus.

The Many Names of Santa

18th-century America’s Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Meaning “Christ child,” Christkind is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. English legend explains that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children’s stockings with holiday treats. Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn’t find Jesus. Later, she felt remorseful, but could not find the men to undo the damage. To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.

Rudolph: The Ninth Reindeer

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph, “the most famous reindeer of all,” was born over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. The red-nosed wonder was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store.

In 1939, May wrote a Christmas-themed story-poem to help bring holiday traffic into his store. Using a similar rhyme pattern to Moore’s “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” May told the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who was teased by the other deer because of his large, glowing, red nose. But, When Christmas Eve turned foggy and Santa worried that he wouldn’t be able to deliver gifts that night, the former outcast saved Christmas by leading the sleigh by the light of his red nose. Rudolph’s message—that given the opportunity, a liability can be turned into an asset—proved popular. Montgomery Ward sold almost two and a half million copies of the story in 1939. When it was reissued in 1946, the book sold over three and half million copies. Several years later, one of May’s friends, Johnny Marks, wrote a short song based on Rudolph’s story (1949). It was recorded by Gene Autry and sold over two million copies. Since then, the story has been translated into 25 languages and been made into a television movie, narrated by Burl Ives, which has charmed audiences every year since 1964.

Yes, kiddies, Santa is smoking...bad Santa! 😉




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44-D’s Famous and Not-So Famous Christmas Movies List



A holiday tradition for my family has always been watching classic Christmas movies. It just isn’t the holidays until snow is falling outside and an Xmas film is on the television.

With that in mind, you’ll find many famous Christmas movies in the page below. Some of them are famous classics, but there a quite a few you might not know about. Check them out and maybe you’ll find a new film to add to your family’s Christmas movie favorites list.~AudieGrl Note: The films below are listed in chronological order.

The Classics 1935-1979


Scrooge (1935)

ScroogeScrooge, the ultimate Victorian miser, hasn’t a good word for Christmas, though his impoverished clerk Cratchit and nephew Fred are full of holiday spirit. But in the night, Scrooge is visited by spirits of another color. This was the second time Seymour Hicks had portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge on film. The first was in Scrooge (1913) which was released in 1913, 22 years earlier.

Quote
Fred: I believe it has done me good and will do me good, and I say God bless it!
Bob Cratchit: Hear hear! Hear hear!
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Holiday Inn (1942)

Holiday InnJim Hardy and Ted Hanover have been vaudeville partners for many years but when Ted announces that he and Jim’s girlfriend, dancer Lila Dixon, are going to set off on their own, Jim decides the time has come to retire. He buys himself a farmhouse in New England and settles into the country life but soon realizes that he has an opportunity to do something special. He decides to open his inn to the public, but only on major holidays. Things are going well for him until his old partner Ted shows up and sets his sights on Jim’s new friend, Linda Mason. The film introduced the song White Christmas.

Quote
Ted Hanover: Then I had a drink.
Jim Hardy: A drink? Boy you were fractured!
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Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Meet Me In St. LouisSt. Louis 1903. The well-off Smith family has four beautiful daughters, including Esther and little Tootie. 17-year old Esther has fallen in love with the boy next door who has just moved in, John. He however, barely notices her at first. The family is shocked when Mr. Smith reveals that he has been transferred to a nice position in New York, which means that the family has to leave St. Louis and the St. Louis Fair.

Quote
‘Tootie’ Smith: And I’m taking all my dolls, even the dead ones. I’m taking everything.
Esther Smith: Of course you are. I’ll help you pack them myself. You won’t have to leave anything behind. Except your snow people, of course. We’d look pretty silly trying to get them on the train, wouldn’t we?
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Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Christmas In ConnecticutJournalist Elizabeth Lane is one of the country’s most famous food writers. In her columns, she describes herself as a hard working farm woman, taking care of her children and being an excellent cook. But this is all lies. In reality she is an unmarried New Yorker who can’t even boil an egg. The recipes come from her good friend Felix. The owner of the magazine she works for has decided that a heroic sailor will spend his Christmas on her farm. Miss Lane knows that her career is over if the truth comes out, but what can she do?

Quote
Elizabeth Lane: John, when you’re kissing me, don’t talk about plumbing.
John Sloan: What? Oh, I’m sorry, what should I talk about?
Elizabeth Lane: Well, do you have to talk?
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It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Its A Wonderful LifeGeorge Bailey spends his entire life giving up his big dreams for the good of his town, Bedford Falls, as we see in flashback. But in the present, on Christmas Eve, he is broken and suicidal over the misplacing of an $8000 loan and the machinations of the evil millionaire, Mr. Potter. His guardian angel, Clarence, falls to Earth, literally, and shows him how his town, family, and friends would turn out if he had never been born. George meant so much to so many people; should he really throw it all away?

Quote
George Bailey: Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!
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Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th StreetDoris Walker a no-nonsense Macy’s executive, desperately searches for a new store Santa. She hires Kris Kringle who insists that he’s the real Santa Claus. But, he has many skeptics like Doris and her six year old daughter, Susan. So Kris goes to court to try and prove it. Is he the real Santa Claus? What ensues is a bizarre hearing in which people’s beliefs are reexamined and put to the test, but even so, it’s going to take a miracle for Kris to win.

Quote
Kris Kringle: Now wait a minute, Susie. Just because every child can’t get his wish that doesn’t mean there isn’t a Santa Claus.
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The Bishop’s Wife (1948)

The Bishop's WifeAn Episcopal Bishop, Henry Brougham, has been working for months on the plans for an elaborate new cathedral which he hopes will be paid for primarily by a wealthy, stubborn widow. He is losing sight of his family and of why he became a churchman in the first place. Enter Dudley, an angel sent to help him. Dudley does help everyone he meets, but not necessarily in the way they would have preferred. With the exception of Henry, everyone loves him, but Henry begins to believe that Dudley is there to replace him, both at work and in his family’s affections, as Christmas approaches.

Quote
Prof. Wutheridge: God bless you!
Dudley: Thank you! I’ll pass that recommendation along.
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A Christmas Carol (1951)

A Christmas Carol 1951Stingy old Ebenezer Scrooge is known as the meanest man in London. He overworks and underpays his humble clerk, Bob Cratchit, whose little son, Tiny Tim, is crippled and may soon die. He also has nothing to do with his nephew, Fred, because his birth cost the life of his beloved sister. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge has a haunting nightmare. He is visited by three ghosts and is given one last chance to change his ways and save himself from the grim fate that befell his business partner, Jacob Marley.

Quote
Ebenezer Scrooge: [after Cratchit claps following Fred’s speech to Scrooge] “Another sound from you… and you’ll keep your Christmas by losing your situation.”
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White Christmas (1954)

White ChristmasAfter leaving the Army after W.W.II, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis team up to become a top song-and-dance act. Davis plays matchmaker and introduces Wallace to a pair of beautiful sisters (Betty and Judy) who also have a song-and-dance act. When Betty and Judy travel to a Vermont lodge to perform a Christmas show, Wallace and Davis follow, only to find their former commander, General Waverly, is the lodge owner. A series of romantic mix-ups ensue as the performers try to help the General.

Quote
Gen. Thomas F. Waverly: “There’s no Christmas in the Army!
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Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer (1964)

Rudplph the Red Nosed ReindeerSam the snowman tells us the story of a young red-nosed reindeer who, after being ousted from the reindeer games because of his beaming honker, teams up with Hermey, an elf who wants to be a dentist, and Yukon Cornelius, the prospector. They run into the Abominable Snowman and find a whole island of misfit toys. Rudoph vows to see if he can get Santa to help the toys, and he goes back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. But Santa’s sleigh is fogged in. But when Santa looks over Rudolph, he gets a very bright idea…

Quote
Mrs. Donner: We’ll simply have to overlook it.
Donner: How can you overlook that? His beak blinks like a blinking beacon.
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A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

A Charlie Brown ChristmasWhen Charlie Brown complains about the overwhelming materialism that he sees amongst everyone during the Christmas season, Lucy suggests that he become director of the school Christmas pageant. Charlie Brown accepts, but it proves to be a frustrating struggle. When an attempt to restore the proper spirit with a forlorn little fir Christmas tree fails, he needs Linus’ help to learn what the real meaning of Christmas is.

Quote
Lucy Van Pelt: Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.
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How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

How the Grinch Stole ChristmasBitter and hateful, the Grinch is irritated at the thought of the nearby village having a happy time celebrating Christmas. So disguised as Santa Claus, with his dog made to look like a reindeer, he raids the village to steal all the Christmas things. The village is sure to have a sad Christmas this year. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a must see film for the Christmas season. It’s always a joy to watch each year and brings back happy memories of watching it with your family.

Quote
Lou Lou Who: I’m glad he took our presents. You can’t hurt Christmas, Mr. Mayor, beacuse it isn’t about the… the gifts or the contest or the fancy lights. That’s what Cindy’s been trying to tell everyone… and me. I don’t need anything more for Christmas than this right here: my family.
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Frosty the Snowman (1969)

Frosty The SnowmanA discarded silk tophat becomes the focus of a struggle between a washed-up stage magician and a group of schoolchildren after it magically brings a snowman to life. Realizing that newly-living Frosty will melt in spring unless he takes refuge in a colder climate, Frosty and a young girl who he befriends stow away on a freight train headed for the north pole. Little do they know that the magician is following them, and he wants his hat back. This animated short is based on the popular Christmas song of the same name.

Quote
Santa Claus: Don’t cry, Karen, Frosty’s not gone for good. You see, he was made out of Christmas snow and Christmas snow can never disappear completely. It sometimes goes away for almost a year at a time and takes the form of spring and summer rain. But you can bet your boots that when a good, jolly December wind kisses it, it will turn into Christmas snow all over again.
Karen: Yes, but… He was my friend.
Santa Claus: Just watch.
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Scrooge (1970)

Scrooge This is a delightful musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol. Cold-souled Ebenezer Scrooge has a change of heart after spirit visitations on Christmas Eve. Folks might not have had much to sing about in England in 1860, but this musical will make you believe otherwise. Kenneth More’s musical number as the Ghost of Christmas Present is especially entertaining.

Quote
Gen. Thomas F. Waverly: “There’s no Christmas in the Army!
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Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970)

Santa Claus Is Coming To TownThe Mailman decides to answer some of the most common questions about Santa Claus, and tells us about a small baby named Kris who was left on the doorstep of the Kringle family (toymakers). When Kris grew up, he wanted to deliver toys to the children of Sombertown. But its Burgermeister (Herr Meisterburger) is too mean to let that happen. And to make things worse, there’s an evil wizard named Winter who lives between the Kringles and Sombertown, but Kris manages to melt Winter’s heart (as well as the comely schoolteacher’s) and deliver his toys.

Quote
Kris Kringle: You better watch out. You better not cry, you better not pout.
Children: Why?
Kris Kringle: I’m telling you why. Because I came to town.
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The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974)

The Year Without A Santa ClausMrs. Claus tells us about the time Santa had a bad cold and decided to take a vacation from Christmas. Two of his elves, Jingle Bells and Jangle Bells decided to go out (with Vixen) to find children to convince Santa that the Christmas spirit is still important to everybody else. But they have to get past Heat Miser and Snow Miser, first, before they land in Southtown, USA, where it never snows for Christmas. But the Miser Brothers can’t agree to let it snow in Southtown. But Mrs. Santa knows their mom–Mother Nature.

Quote
Heat Miser: Well, well, Mrs. Claus. How’s your husband doing? Out doing another commercial for my brother?
Mrs. Santa: Oh come now. You know he’s not on your brother’s payroll.
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Contemporary Classics 1980-1999

A Christmas Story (1983)

A Christmas StoryIt’s Christmas time and there’s only one thing on Ralphie Parker’s Christmas list this year: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot, Range Model Air Rifle, but many obstacles stand in the way of his dream because every adult that he confronts keeps telling him he’ll shoot his eye out. Christmas is drawing nearer and Ralphie visits Santa at the department store in hopes of asking him for his dream gift. Will he receive it? Let’s hope so.

Quote
Ralphie: I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!
Mrs. Parker: No, you’ll shoot your eye out.
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Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Mickey's Christmas CarolExamples set by Bob Cratchit help Ebeneezer Scrooge to embrace the true Christmas spirit in this trailer for the Disney classic movie Mickey’s Christmas Carol. An animated short film featuring the various Walt Disney characters (including characters from Wind in the Willows, Robin Hood and The Three Little Pigs), with Scrooge McDuck fittingly playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Quote
Scrooge: My partner, Jacob Marley, dead seven years today. Oh, he was a good’n. He robbed from the widows and swindled the poor. In his will, he left me enough money to pay for his tombstone, and I have him buried at sea!
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A Christmas Carol (1984)

A Christmas CarolMade for television version of the Charles Dickens classic of the same name. An old man, played by George C. Scott, who hates Christmas is taught the true meaning and spirit of Christmas by ghosts who show him his own past and present. He is also shown what the future holds for him if he doesn’t change his behavior. They show him what he has lost and what he will leave behind after he is gone unless he mends his ways.

Quote
Ebenezer Scrooge: These are garments, Mr. Cratchit. Garments were invented by the human race as a protection against the cold. Once purchased, they may be used indefinitely for the purpose for which they are intended. Coal burns. Coal is momentary and coal is costly. There will be no more coal burned in this office today, is that quite clear, Mr. Cratchit?
Bob Cratchit: Yes, Sir.
Ebenezer Scrooge: Now please get back to work before I am forced to conclude that your services here are no longer required.
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One Magic Christmas (1985)

Gideon, a Christmas angel, is sent, by Santa, to help Ginny Grainger. Ginny is a cynic, and she hates Christmas. She and her family (husband, Jack and two kids, Caleb and Abbie) have fallen on hard times, making it even harder to believe in anything that can’t be seen. With help from Abbie, and a trip to see Santa Claus himself, can Gideon find a way to make Ginny believe again?
Quote
Abbie Grainger: My brother’s never going to believe this.
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Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

Santa Claus: The MovieThe first half of this film, set hundreds of years ago, shows how the old man who eventually became Santa Claus was given immortality and chosen to deliver toys to all the children of the world. The second half moves into the modern era, in which Patch, the head elf, strikes out on his own and falls in with an evil toy manufacturer who wants to corner the market and eliminate Santa Claus.

Quote
Santa Claus: How can I do so much in just one night?
Ancient Elf: Oh, yeah, well know this: time travels with you. The night of the world is a passage of endless night for you, until your mission is done.
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Scrooged (1988)

ScroogedFrank Cross runs a US TV station which is planning a live adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Frank’s childhood wasn’t a particularly pleasant one, and so he doesn’t really appreciate the Christmas spirit. With the help of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Frank realizes he must change. The movie’s tag line is: Bill Murray is back among the ghosts. Only this time, it’s three against one.

Quote
Frank Cross: Do you think I’m way off-base here?
Elliot: Yes. You’re, well, you’re a tad off-base, sir. That thing looked like The Manson Family Christmas Special.
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Die Hard (1988)

New York cop John McClane flies to Los Angeles on Christmas eve to spend the holidays with his family. He arrives at the Nakatomi corp. building for his wife’s office party. International terrorists take over the building and hold every one as hostage to steel $600 million of bonds from the vaults of the building. Now its up to McCLane to face the terrorists and save his wife and the other hostages.

Quotes
John McClane: You throw quite a party. I didn’t realize they celebrated Christmas in Japan.
Joseph Takagi: Hey, we’re flexible. Pearl Harbor didn’t work out so we got you with tape decks.
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Prancer (1989)

Jessica, the daughter of an impoverished apple farmer, still believes in Santa Claus. So when she comes across a reindeer with an injured leg, it makes perfect sense to her to assume that it is Prancer, who had fallen from a Christmas display in town. She hides the reindeer in her barn and feeds it cookies, until she can return it to Santa. Her father finds the reindeer an decides to sell it to the butcher, not for venison chops, but as an advertising display.

Revealing mistakes
The scene is set in a snowy, cold town in the late fall/early winter. Yet breath from the cold can never be seen emerging from the characters.
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National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

National Lampoon's Christmas VacationIt’s Christmas time – Clark decided to invite all the family to have ‘the most fun-filled old-fashioned family Christmas‘, which nobody shall ever forget. When the first relatives arrive, Clark soon flees on the roof to rig the lighting. The one thing the loving father wants to surprise the whole family with is the installation of a pool, which he already ordered. Unfortunately, the bonus check Clark expects any minute is overdue – and tempers rise, but not only because of the check. A big event is the arrival of uninvited cousin Eddie with his family in their mobile home, as well as a little sledding afternoon with a new lubricant from Clark’s company, or his shifting relationship with the very hip and clean neighbors. Cousin Eddie chooses to top off all presents with his very own special creation, only intending to deliver a real reason to be jolly.

Quote
Clark: Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?
Eddie: Naw, I’m doing just fine, Clark.
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Home Alone (1990)

In this film, Kevin McAllister is an eight year old boy left at home by his parents, when they leave with the rest of the family for Christmas holidays to Paris. At first he seems to enjoy living alone, but after a while he understands that things aren’t so easy. Especially when two robbers decide to break in a particular house. HIS house! Is he able to defend his home?
Quotes
Kate McCallister: [to the Scranton Ticket Agent] This is *Christmas*. The season of perpetual hope. And I don’t care if I have to get out on your runway and hitchhike. If it costs me everything I own, if I have to sell my soul to the devil himself, I am going to get home to my son.
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All I Want for Christmas (1991)

All I Want for Christmas 1991In this family-friendly holiday film, all Ethan and Hallie want for Christmas is for their parents to get back together. Catherine and Michael have been divorced for a year and now Catherine’s dating a guy no one can stand, including her mother Lillian. Michael, meanwhile, has opened a successful diner, but he misses Catherine. When Hallie overhears Catherine tell Lillian she and Tony are planning to marry, she and Ethan come up with a plan to strand their parents alone together on Christmas Eve. Hallie even asks Santa to help them out.

Quote
Hallie O’Fallon: Excuse me! Can I cut in? I won’t take long… I just have to fix this mistake I made.
Girl in Line: Have cuts for a dollar!
Hallie O’Fallon: Forget it. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah! Don’t forget to tell Santa what a creep you are!
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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Muppet Christmas CarolA retelling of the classic Dickens tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, miser extraordinaire. He is held accountable for his dastardly ways during night-time visitations by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and future. Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the entire cast of the Muppet universe come together to re-tell this immortal classic. This was also the first time the Muppets appeared on screen since Jim Henson’s death in 1990.

Quote
Ghost of Christmas Past: Let us see another Christmas at this place.
Ebenezer Scrooge: They were pretty much all the same. Nothing ever changed.
Ghost of Christmas Past: You changed.
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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Nightmare Before XmasJack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is bored with doing the same thing every year for Halloween. One day he stumbles into Christmas Town, and is so taken with the idea of Christmas that he tries to get the resident bats, ghouls, and goblins of Halloween town to help him put on Christmas instead of Halloween — but alas, they can’t get it quite right.

Quote
Jack Skellington: [singing] What’s this? What’s this? There’s color everywhere! What’s this? There’s white things in the air! What’s this? I can’t believe my eyes, I must be dreaming; wake up, Jack, this isn’t fair! What’s this?
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The Santa Clause (1994)

The Santa ClauseDivorcee Scott Calvin is disgusted to learn that his ex and her husband have tried – and failed – to break it easy to their 6-year-old son Charlie that Santa isn’t real. On Christmas Eve, Scott reads The Night Before Christmas… then receives an unexpected visitor on his roof. When he’s startled by Scott’s calling out and falls, the Santa impersonator disappears, leaving only an 8-reindeer sleigh and a suit with instructions to put it on if he’s involved in an accident. Scott does, and is transported around the town dropping gifts through chimneys until he’s taken to the North Pole and informed by a group who claim they’re elves that he is now Santa. Charlie is proud of his dad’s new job, though Scott’s convinced it’s a dream. Until his hair turns white, his beard refuses to stay shaved, he gains weight inexplicably, even for his sudden love of junk food…

Quote
Charlie: These are Santa’s reindeer, aren’t they?
Scott Calvin: I hope not. These are… A gift. Probably from the cable company. We’re getting the Disney Channel now. Merry Christmas.
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Jingle All the Way (1996)

When Howard misses his son’s karate practice, he makes peace by promising his son a Turbo Man doll for Christmas. What Howard doesn’t know is that every other child wants the doll as well. On the day of Christmas Eve, Howard must compete against a deranged postal worker (played by Sinbad), as well as con-artist Santas, the police, and almost every parent in town, to get his son the cherished toy. But while Howard is going insane trying to find the doll, his son is wondering where his father is, and his neighbor (Phil Hartman) is putting the moves on his wife. One of the only movies that feature ‘candy-cane numchucks’.

Quotes
Howard Langston: You guys are nothing but a bunch of sleazy conmen in red suits.
Mall Santa: What did you call us?
Howard Langston: You heard me right. Conmen. Thieves. Degenerates. Low-lifes. Thugs. Criminals!
Mall Santa: At the North Pole them are fighting words, Partner.
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The Preacher’s Wife (1996)

The Preachers WifeGood natured Reverend Henry Biggs finds that his marriage to choir mistress Julia is flagging, due to his constant absence caring for the deprived neighborhood they live in. On top of all this, his church is coming under threat from property developer Joe Hamilton. In desperation, Rev. Biggs prays to God for help – and help arrives in the form of an angel named Dudley. However, Dudley’s arrival seems to cause even more trouble…

Quote
Julia Biggs: It’s okay if I look in the window, just as long as I don’t buy.
Marguerite Coleman: Yeah? Well, don’t go shopping with money in your pocket! And you better not be putting anything in the layaway plan, either!
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I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1998)

A college student experiences difficulty in getting home for Christmas after being hazed by his friends. While struggling to get home in time for Christmas, he learns quite a bit about himself and the true meaning of the holiday. The movies tag line is: Somewhere between L.A. and N.Y. Jake found the meaning of Christmas. The soundtrack includes some new and some classic Christmas songs.

Quote
Eddie: Hey jingle balls! Move your candycanes!
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Jack Frost (1998)

Jack Frost is a singer who’s on the road most of the time so he can’t spend a lot of time with his son Charlie, although they love each other very much. When Jack dies in a car accident, Charlie becomes a very sad young man, until… Jack returns as a snowman! Now they can do all the things they’ve missed when Jack was human, but what will people think when they see Charlie talking to a snowman and what will happen when the weather gets warmer?

Quotes
Jack: Three balls, two sticks, one corked nose. Snowman? No. Much, much more. I am the Wizard of Blizzard! Hahahahahaha! Now run you little mountain goats!
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A Christmas Carol (1999)

A Christmas Carol Scrooge is a miserly old businessman in 1840’s London. One Christmas Eve he is visited by the ghost of Marley, his dead business partner. Marley foretells that Scrooge will be visited by three spirits, each of whom will attempt to show Scrooge the error of his ways. Will Scrooge reform his ways in time to celebrate Christmas? Patrick Stewart’s performance is perfect, and stays faithful to the Dickens novel as written.

Quote
Bob Cratchit: I was wondering if you’d like Mr. Marley’s name removed from the sign outside.
Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge: No; time will erase it at no cost to us.
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New School Classics 2000-2009


The Grinch (2000)

Based on the book by the famous Dr. Seuss. Inside a snowflake exists the magical land of Whoville. In Whoville, live the Who’s, an almost mutated sort of munchkinlike people. All the Who’s love Christmas, yet just outside of their beloved Whoville lives the Grinch. The Grinch is a nasty creature that hates Christmas, and plots to steal it away from the Whos which he equally abhors. Yet a small child, Cindy Lou Who, decides to try befriend the Grinch.

Quotes
Cindy Lou Who: Santa, what’s the meaning of Christmas?
The Grinch: [bursts through the Christmas tree] “VENGEANCE!”
The Grinch: [calmly] I mean… presents, I suppose.
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The Family Man (2000)

On Christmas Eve, two days before he pulls off a multi-billion-dollar merger, Wall Street hot-shot Jack Campbell gets a phone message from a woman he almost married 13 years before. He also tells a gun-toting street tough that he has everything he needs. The punk laughs. Christmas morning, Jack wakes up next to his old girlfriend, in some sort of parallel universe, in a 12-year marriage. Over the next few weeks, he gets a glimpse of what his life would have been like if he’d married her: a house in Jersey, two children, bowling trophies, a job at his father-in-law’s tire store, and a lot of love from his wife Kate. When this Dickensian adventure ends, what will he do?

Quotes
Kate: How can you do that?
Jack: What?
Kate: Look at me like you haven’t seen me every day for the last 13 years.
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Call Me Claus (2001)

When Lucy Cullins, a successful but cranky producer at a home shopping network, hires an actor named Nick to play Santa Claus on the network she gets more than she bargained for. Nick really is Santa Claus, and he faces mandatory retirement after 200 years on the job. Nick must find his replacement by Christmas Eve or the world will face dire consequences and he has his sights set on Lucy.

Quotes
Ralph: Look, we’re burning daylight on the international dateline.
Lucy: Okay, right now you’re burning my last nerve.
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The Santa Clause 2 (2002)

Scott Calvin has been Santa Claus for the past eight years, and his loyal elves consider him the best Santa ever. But Santa’s got problems (he’s even mysteriously losing weight) and things quickly go south when he finds out that his son, Charlie, has landed on this year’s “naughty” list. Desperate to help his son, Scott heads back home, leaving a substitute Claus to watch over things at the Pole. But when the substitute institutes some strange redefinitions of naughty and nice, putting Christmas at risk, it’s up to Scott to return with a new bag of magic to try to save Christmas.

Quotes
Lucy: Uncle Scott, are you Santa Claus?
Scott Calvin: What makes you say that?
Lucy: Because you have a reindeer.
Scott Calvin: Lots of people have reindeer.
Lucy: Name five.
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The Christmas Shoes (2002)

Two separate stories mesh – in the first, a young music teacher, Maggie Andrews, begins dying of a heart condition and her son Nathan tries to get a pair of Christmas shoes for her before she dies. In the second, lawyer Robert Layton and his wife Kate are slowly drifting apart and the matter comes to a head during Christmas when Kate takes over for Maggie for the school choir and declines a job in Robert’s firm. When Robert’s mother passes away, he begins to reconsider things and his and Nathan’s paths cross on Christmas Eve as Nathan tries to raise the money for the shoes and Robert tries to get a present for his daughter.

Quotes
Maggie Andrews: Honey, what’s the matter?
Nathan Andrews: Your heart. I just wanted to see if it was still beating.
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Elf (2003)

Buddy was a baby in an orphanage who stowed away in Santa’s sack and ended up at the North Pole. Later, as an adult human who happened to be raised by elves, Santa allows him to go to New York City to find his birth father, Walter Hobbs. Hobbs, on Santa’s naughty list for being a heartless jerk, had no idea that Buddy was even born. Buddy, meanwhile, experiences the delights of New York City (and human culture) as only an elf can. When Walter’s relationship with Buddy interferes with his job, he is forced to reevaluate his priorities.

Quotes
Buddy: We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.
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Bad Santa (2003)

The story of two conmen who go on a road trip to malls dressed as Santa and his elf. Rather than spreading good cheer, the duo’s motive is to rob each establishment, a strategy that becomes complicated when they encounter an 8-year-old who teaches them the true meaning of Christmas. All so comes in a raunchier version in “Bad-er Santa” with the tag line “Get Naughty this Holiday Season.”

Quotes
Kid: “Your beard’s not real.”
Willie: “No Shit! It was real, but I got sick and all the hair fell out.”
Kid: “How come?”
Willie: “I loved a woman who wasn’t clean.”
Kid: “Mrs. Santa?”
Willie: “No it was her sister
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Surviving Christmas (2004)

Drew Latham is an executive leading an empty, shallow life with only wealth on his side. Facing another lonely Christmas ahead, Drew wants to revisit his old childhood home and possibly relive some old holiday memories. But when he arrives, he finds that the house he was raised in is no longer the home he grew up in. Inhabited by another family, Drew offers a nice financial reward that has the family ringing. But is Drew’s generous cash offer only the beginning of an annoying visitor whose a little too overeager to celebrate Christmas?

Quotes
Drew Latham: Please! Please, let me stay here!
Tom Valco: No!
Drew Latham: I’ll pay you.
Tom Valco: My family’s not for sale, pal.
Drew Latham: I’ll pay you $250,000!
Tom Valco: Welcome home, son.
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Noel (2004)

Christmas Eve in New York, and the lonely divorced publisher, Rose Collins, needs a miracle to improve the health of her mother, interned in a hospital with Alzheimers. She feels sorry for another patient and meets his visitor. Meanwhile, Nina Vasquez breaks her engagement with her beloved fiancé Mike due to his suffocating jealousy, but misses him. Mike is stalked by a stranger, bartender Artie Venzuela. The poor Jules arranges to spend Christmas Eve in the hospital, where he spent the best Christmas of his life when he was a teenager. The lives of some of these characters cross with others along the night.

Quotes
Rose: I like to think my life matters.
Charlie: Oh, your life matters, you’ve touched other people’s lives in ways you don’t even realize.
Rose: How do you know that?
Charlie: Cause you’ve touched my life.
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The Polar Express (2004)

Santa Claus does not exist. Or does he? For one doubting boy, an astonishing event occurs. Late on Christmas Eve night, he lies in bed hoping to hear the sound of reindeer bells from Santa’s sleigh. When to his surprise, a steam engine’s roar and whistle can be heard outside his window. The conductor invites him on board to take an extraordinary journey to the North Pole with many other pajama-clad children. There, he receives an extraordinary gift only those who still believe in Santa can experience.

Quotes
Santa Claus: This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas – as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.
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Christmas With the Kranks (2004)

When Luther and Nora Kranks only daughter leaves and goes to another country they both decide to skip Christmas this year and spend it on a cruise. Now they must survive, facing their neighbors, a house decorations contest and carolers. But when their daughter calls on Christmas eve and says shes coming home for Christmas, the Kranks really get into the meaning of Holiday Rush when they have 12 hours to get Christmas set up for their daughter and her fiancée. Based on the novel Skipping Christmas by John Grisham.

Quotes
Nora Krank: Why would we want to get tans before the cruise? I thought the idea was to get them DURING the cruise.
Luther Krank: Look at us, we kind of look like uncooked chicken.
Daisy: You look like a corpse.
Daisy: [to Nora] And you could use some help too.
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The Family Stone (2005)

The Stones gather for Christmas. Dad’s a professor in a Connecticut town; mom has a secret; there’s a gay, deaf son and his lover; a pregnant daughter and her child; a daughter who’s judgmental and acerbic, like her mother; and a laid-back observant brother. Everett is the eldest, bringing his fiancée Meredith to meet the family and, probably, to ask for grandma’s ring to give her. She’s self centered, uptight, and talks too much. Instantly, almost all give her a hard time. She calls her sister to come and help. Meredith, her sister, the Stones, and the family stone conflate. What does Everett see in Meredith, and doesn’t she deserve someone to love her for who she is?

Quotes
Meredith Morton: What’s so great about you guys?
Sybil Stone: Uh, nothing… it’s just that we’re all that we’ve got.
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The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006)

Santa’s got problems: it’s a few days before Christmas and production lags, Mrs. Claus is about to give birth and wants family time, and Jack Frost (tired of second billing) is on probation under Santa’s supervision. Santa tries to support his wife by bringing her parents to the North Pole (to preserve the secret of Santa, they must think it’s Canada). Santa also brings his ex, her husband, and their daughter Lucy. Inside the toy factory, Jack makes mischief and hatches a plan to become Santa. With Santa juggling that many snow globes, something is bound to go wrong. But if things get too difficult, Santa can always exercise his option to invoke the Escape Clause.

Quotes
Jack Frost: Would you like to be my elf?
Sylvia Newman: Huh?
Jack Frost: You heard me.
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The Holiday (2006)

Iris is in love with a man who is about to marry another woman. Across the globe, Amanda realizes the man she lives with has been unfaithful. Two women who have never met and live 6000 miles apart, find themselves in the exact same place. They meet online at a home exchange website and impulsively switch homes for the holiday. Iris moves into Amanda’s L.A. house in sunny California as Amanda arrives in the snow covered English countryside. Shortly after arriving at their destinations, both women find the last thing either wants or expects: a new romance. Amanda is charmed by Iris’ handsome brother Graham and Iris, with inspiration provided by legendary screenwriter Arthur, mends her heart when she meets film composer Miles.

Quotes
Amanda: You know Graham, I just broke up with someone and considering you just showed up and you’re insanely good-looking and probably won’t remember me anyway… I’m thinking we should have sex… If you want.
Graham: Is that a trick question?
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Deck the Halls (2006)

This holiday comedy is centered around two neighbors in a small New England town who go to war when one of them decides to decorate his house with a so many Christmas lights that they are visible from space. The neighborhood is turned upside down as the families try to discover the true meaning of Christmas. Starring Danny DeVito and Mathew Broderick. The movie’s tag line is “This Christmas when the lights go on . . . the gloves come off”.

Quotes
Tia Hall: I used to do a bit of modeling, mainly for college classes… that’s how I met Buddy.
Kelly Finch: Oh, was he a professor?
Tia Hall: No, he was the one they caught peeping in the windows.
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This Christmas (2007)

This year, Christmas with the Whitfields promises to be one they will never forget. All the siblings have come home for the first time in years and they’ve brought plenty of baggage with them. As the Christmas tree is trimmed and the lights are hung, secrets are revealed and family bonds are tested. As their lives converge, they join together and help each other discover the true meaning of family.

Quotes
Melanie Whitfield: You slept with Santa!
Kelli Whitfield: Well I didn’t know he was Santa at the time but… technically, I guess I did.
Melanie Whitfield: Ho! HO! HO!
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The Perfect Holiday (2007)

An updated take on the classic and beloved Christmas family film, The Perfect Holiday tells the story of Nancy, a divorced mother of three who is so busy raising her children that she’s forgotten to take care of herself as well. With Christmas fast approaching, she decides to take her kids to the mall to meet Santa Claus, not knowing that her youngest daughter Emily has sensed her mother’s sadness and is determined to use her time with Santa to make her mom happy again. Just a few days prior, Emily heard her mom say that all she wanted for Christmas was a compliment from a man, so that’s exactly what she tells Santa.

Quotes
Jamal: Hi, I’m Santa’s Number One Elf!
Brenda: More like numbers one through ten…
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Fred Claus (2007)

During childhood, Fred Claus suffered his younger brother Nick’s saintliness. Jump ahead: Fred is a fast-talking, genial but self-centered guy in Chicago looking for $50,000 to open an off-track-betting shop. When one scam goes awry, he calls Nick at the North Pole for a loan: Nick will give him the money only if Fred comes up to help a few days with the Christmas rush. After his girlfriend dumps him, Fred heads north. Santa’s facing an audit from an efficiency expert, and it’s not pleasant. Fred’s job is to review charts and determine who’s naughty and who’s nice. Is there any fraternal feeling left, can either learn from the other, and what about Santa getting fired?

Quotes
Clyde: You’re all fired, in the morning you’ll all be on a bus back to Elfistan!
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Christmas in Wonderland (2007)

It’s turning out to be a pretty rotten Christmas for the Saunders family. Having just moved to a new city from Los Angeles, they have no friends, no money and, with the exception of the bright-eyed Mary, no Christmas spirit. To make matters worse, their mother is stuck in L.A., stranded by airline overbookings. So, the Christmas shopping duties fall on Dad (Patrick Swayze) and the gloomy kids. Things start looking a bit more like Christmas when 12-year old Brian and 6-year old Mary find a satchel of money at the local mall and they launch a Yuletide shopping spree…

Factual errors
Leonard and Sheldon drive their motorcycle through the 2nd story window overlooking the tidal pool and land in the deep end. In reality, the window overlooks the shallow end of the pool where the water only comes up to your ankles. They would’ve landed on solid concrete.
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Four Christmases (2008)

Brad and Kate have been together three years, in love, having fun, doing all sorts of things together with no intention of marriage or children. Christmas morning, they’re on their way to Fiji, having told their two sets of divorced parents that they’re off to do charity work. Through a fluke, they have no choice but to visit each of their four idiosyncratic parents. As the day progresses, Brad and Kate remember growing up, each learns more about the other, and Kate realizes that her life may not be as good as it could be. Do they know each other well enough to weather the storms families bring?

Quotes
Brad: We just gotta get through these four Christmases as quickly and painlessly as possible.
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Nothing Like the Holidays (2008)

It’s Christmas and the far-flung members of the Rodriguez family are converging at their parents’ home in Chicago to celebrate the season and rejoice in their youngest brother’s safe return from combat overseas. But when old disputes resurface and new surprises arise, familial bonds are stretched to the limit and the Rodriguezes realize they’re going to have to pull together to make it through the holidays in one piece. Nothing Like the holidays is a hilarious and heartwarming look at a holiday one family will never forget.

Quotes
Edy Rodriguez: I just want to enjoy Christmas with my family, not that they make it so easy.
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Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

Miser Ebenezer Scrooge is awakened on Christmas Eve by spirits who reveal to him his own miserable existence, what opportunities he wasted in his youth, his current cruelties, and the dire fate that awaits him if he does not change his ways. Scrooge is faced with his own story of growing bitterness and meanness, and must decide what his own future will hold: death or redemption. Created by Disney Studios and starring Jim Carrey.

Quotes
Ebenezer Scrooge: If I could have my way, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!
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The History of Christmas at the White House 1789-2009

Like any other Americans, the family living in the big white house on Pennsylvania avenue has traditions surrounding the holiday season as well. Sit back, and get comfortable, while we explore how Presidents have celebrated Christmas from President George Washington to President Barack Obama.

A special note of thanks goes to our friends at White House Christmas Cards, for allowing us to use some of their outstanding research material as part of this presentation. If you are interested in a more in-depth study of Christmas in the White House, we highly recommend you visit their site.

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. ~ President Calvin Coolidge

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History of Christmas at the White House (1789-1849)



President George Washington and First Lady Martha (1789-1797)
President John Adams and First Lady Abigale (1797-1801)
President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
President James Madison (1809-1817)
President James Monroe and First Lady Elizabeth (1817-1825)
President John Quincy Adams and First Lady Louisa (1825-1829)
President Andrew Jackson and First Lady Rachel (1829-1837)
President Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
President William Henry Harrison and First Lady Anna (1841-1841)
President John Tyler and First Ladies Lettitia and Julia (1841-1845)
President James K. Polk and First Lady Sarah (1845-1849)
President Zachary Taylor and First Lady Margaret (1849-1850)


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History of Christmas at the White House (1850-1901)

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President Millard Fillmore and First Ladies Abigail and Caroline (1850-1853)
President Franklin Pierce and First Lady Jane (1853-1857)
President James Buchanan (1857-1861)
President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary (1861-1865)
President Andrew Johnson and First Lady Elizabeth (1865-1869)
President Ulysses S. Grant and First Lady Julia (1869-1877)
President Rutherford B. Hayes and First Lady Lucy (1877-1881)
President James A. Garfield and First Lady Lucretia (1881-1881)
President Chester A. Arthur and First Lady Ellen (1881-1885)
President Grover Cleveland and First Lady Francis (1885-1889, (1893-1897)
President Benjamin Harrison and First Lady Caroline and Mary (1889-1893)
President William McKinley and First Lady Ida (1897-1901)


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History of Christmas at the White House (1901-1953)

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President Theodore Roosevelt and First Ladies Alice and Edith (1901-1909)
President William Howard Taft and First Lady Helen (1909-1913)
President Woodrow Wilson and First Ladies Ellen and Edith (1913-1921)
President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence (1921-1923)
President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace (1923-1929)
President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Lou (1929-1933)
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor (1933-1945)
President Harry S. Truman and First Lady Bess (1945-1953)


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History of Christmas at the White House (1953-1977)

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President Dwight Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower (1953-1961)
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1961-1963)
President Lyndon Johnson and First Lady Claudia (Lady Bird) (1963-1969)
President Richard Nixon and First Lady Patricia (1969-1974)
President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty (1974-1977)

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History of Christmas at the White House (1977-2009)

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President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalyn Carter (1977-1981)
President Ronald Regan and First Lady Nancy (1981-1989)
President George HW Bush and First Lady Barbara (1989-1993)
President William J. Clinton and First Lady Hillary (1993-2001)
President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush (2001-2008)
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (2009- )


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The History of Christmas at the White House 1789 thru 1849

President George Washington and First Lady Martha 1789-1797

George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City. There was no White House at that time so the Washington’s lived in houses that were “borrowed” as Presidential homes, first in New York City and later in Philadelphia.

At a time when Christmas was still quite controversial in a new nation, at the time Martha Washington’s holiday receptions were stiff and regal affairs, quite befitting the dignity of the office of President of the United States and invitations were much desired by the local gentry. A Christmas party was given by the Washington’s for members of Congress on Christmas Day, 1795 at which a bountiful feast was served to the guests, all men with the exception of the First Lady.

The 2009 Mount Vernon Holiday Ornament

The 2009 Mount Vernon Holiday Ornament

Although not everyone celebrated Christmas in the colonies, the festivities at Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation in Virginia would start at daybreak with a Christmas fox hunt. It was followed by a hearty mid-day feast that included “Christmas pie,” dancing, music, and visiting that sometimes did not end for a solid week. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the Christmas of 1777, spent by General Washington and his troops at Valley Forge where dinner was little more than cabbage, turnips, and potatoes.

Some documents show that Christmas at Mt. Vernon were quite a celebration. The traditional feast varied from household to household (depending on how wealthy the family was) but generally, consisted of wines, rum punches, hams, beef, goose, turkey, oysters, mincemeat pies, and various other treats. The season was considered a grown-up celebration, but presents would generally be given to children. Irena Chalmers notes that in 1759, that George Washington gave the following presents to his children: a bird on Bellows; a Cuckoo; a Turnabout Parrot; a Grocers Shop; an Aviary; a Prussian Dragoon; a Man Smoking; a Tunbridge Tea Set; 3 Neat Books, a Tea Chest. A straw parchment box with a glass and a neat dressed wax baby.

President John Adams and First Lady Abigale 1797-1801

When the second President of the United States, John Adams, moved into what would come to be known as the White House, the residence was cold, damp, and drafty. Sitting at the edge of a dreary swamp, the First Family had to keep 13 fireplaces lit in an effort to stay comfortable. It is in this setting that the cantankerous president held the first ever White House Christmas party in honor of his granddaughter, Susanna. It could be said that the invitations sent for this party were the very first White House Christmas cards, though in those early days, the building was referred to as the President’s Palace, Presidential Mansion, or President’s House.

Peacefield, the Quincy, Massachusetts home and farm of John Adams, where he spent Christmas with his family before and after his presidency

The affair was planned in large part by the vivacious First Lady, Abigail Adams, and was considered a great success. A small orchestra played festive music in a grand ballroom adorned with seasonal flora. After dinner, cakes and punch were served while the staff and guests caroled and played games. The most amusing incident of the evening occurred when one of the young guests accidentally broke one of the First Granddaughter’s new doll dishes. Enraged, the young guest of honor promptly bit the nose off of one of the offending friend’s dolls. The amused president had to intervene to make sure the incident didn’t turn any uglier.

The 2009 John Adams Administration Christmas Ornament

The 2009 John Adams Administration Christmas Ornament

With the death of George Washington shortly before Christmas of 1799, President Adam’s Federalist Party was weakened. Due in part to the unpopularity of the Alien and Sedition Acts, he narrowly lost his re-election bid to Thomas Jefferson, 65 to 73 in the Electoral College. Adams retired to a life of farming at Peacefield, his home near Quincy, Massachusetts. In 1812, Adams reconciled with Thomas Jefferson. He sent a brief note to Jefferson, which resulted in a resumption of their friendship and began an ongoing correspondence that lasted the rest of their lives.

President Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809

Since Christmas did not become a national holiday until 1870 during the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, it is not surprising that the exchanging of White House Christmas cards was not a yearly presidential custom during the very early history of our country. For most of our earlier presidents, there is very little documented information regarding Christmas celebrations or traditions they or their families may have practiced. However, whether it is because he was a prolific letter-writer or that scholars have accumulated a wealth of information on his life from painstaking research, there is more information describing Christmas celebrations of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, than any of our other Founding Fathers who became president. This information reflects both the time Jefferson spent as president in the White House and at his famous Virginia home and plantation, Monticello.

Monticello, the Virginia home and plantation of Thomas Jefferson, where he celebrated many Christmas seasons with his family before and after his presidency

As president in 1805, six of his grandchildren and 100 of their friends – invited by Secretary of State James Madison’s wife, Dolley, who acted as official hostess – made for a tremendously enjoyable holiday party at which Jefferson played the violin for the dancing children. Christmas celebrations at the Jefferson White House were festive affairs where delicacies and local American foods were served. Joyful Christmas partying continued at Monticello in 1809 following the end of the Jefferson presidency earlier that year. Celebrations at Jefferson’s beautiful home included social intercourse amongst friends and relatives and the serving of a Christmas favorite, mince pies. The hanging of Christmas stockings and the decorating of evergreen trees had not yet become the norm like those traditions are today.

2004 American President Collection Thomas Jefferson Ornament

2004 American President Collection Thomas Jefferson Ornament

In all that he did, Jefferson tried to maintain his political and moral philosophy, not only for the country itself, but also for America’s citizens. He believed that each person has “certain inalienable rights,” which could not be taken away whether a government existed or not. He also believed in equality for all people and was a proponent of states’ rights.
Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 along with fellow Founding Father and 2nd President, John Adams). Ironically, this date was also the 50th anniversary of the adoption of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the document which historians readily believe is perhaps the most important document in our country’s history.

President James Madison 1809-1817

President James Monroe and First Lady Elizabeth 1817-1825

Monroe, a Virginian who is considered the last of the United States’ Founding Fathers, was, however, one of the participants in what may be the most famous Christmas in our nation’s history.

It was on Christmas in 1776 that Monroe, a lieutenant in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, was wounded in the shoulder serving with General George Washington in the surprise attack against the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton in New Jersey. In fact, in the famous 1851 painting by German-American artist Emanuel Leutze, it is the young James Monroe who is shown holding the flag as Washington leads his men into battle as their boat crosses the Delaware River from Pennsylvania into New Jersey. Had the exchanging of Christmas cards been a custom back in Colonial times, certainly none would have been exchanged between the pro-British Hessians and the revolution-minded colonists!

The famous painting by Emanuel Leutze featuring George Washington leading his troops across the Delaware on Christmas of 1776. Future President James Monroe is depicted holding the American flag.

The famous painting by Emanuel Leutze featuring George Washington leading his troops across the Delaware on Christmas of 1776. Future President James Monroe is depicted holding the American flag.

In modern times, at the James Monroe Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, not only is there an annual exhibition showcasing what the Monroe home would have looked like at Christmastime, but other festivities include fireworks, a display of Christmas dishes such as candied fruits and plum pudding, and decorations which include mistletoe, ivy, and holly.

In 1831 James Monroe died from tuberculosis and heart failure one year later on the 4th of July – the third president of the first five in our country’s history to pass away on the date of the birth of our nation.

President John Quincy Adams and First Lady Louisa 1825-1829

President John Quincy Adams spent four Christmases in the White House and yet there is very little written about his Christmas celebrations, if indeed there were any. He was a very prolific writer and there is certainly the possibility that he sent Christmas messages from the White House. Since Christmas cards were not in vogue until after the 1850s, we can be sure that President John Quincy Adams did not send out White House Christmas cards.

President Adams appointed Joel R. Poinsett as the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico in 1825, who shortly thereafter brought back red, wild growing plants from the southern Mexican states. These red plants would be called poinsettia, the popular Christmas plant of today.

President and Mrs. Adams lived vastly separate lives while in the White House. President Adams developed his love for gardening and Louisa raised silk worms. Perhaps, her intention was to make Christmas presents with the silk. Being the only foreign born first lady, Louisa had some bad publicity stirred up by opponents of her husband. Their son John was the only son of a president to be married in the White House on February 25, 1828. Louisa Adams was the first to allow visitors to tour the White House with the intention of proving that the First Family was not living in the lap of luxury at the expense of the taxpayers.

President Andrew Jackson and First Lady Rachel 1829-1837

During the 1835 Christmas season, a number of young relatives occupied the White House of President Andrew Jackson. His wife’s niece, her four children and the two children of his adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr., all made their residence in the executive mansion. The President and his family sent invitations, White House Christmas cards, of sorts, to the local children inviting them to an event in the East Room on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve, President Jackson and the White House children embarked upon a carriage ride, delivering gifts to former First Lady Dolly Madison and Vice President Martin Van Buren. As they rode, one of the children asked the President if he thought Santa would visit the White House. Mr. Jackson replied that they would have to wait and see and told the children of a boy he once knew who had never heard of Christmas or Santa Claus and who had never owned a single toy. The boy, he told them, never knew his father and then his mother died. After her death, he had no friends and no place to live. Jackson and the children then visited an orphanage and delivered the remaining gifts in the carriage to its residents. Years later, one of the children, Mary Donelson, realized that the boy the president spoke of had been Jackson himself.

The 2004 American President Collection Andrew Jackson Ornament.

The 2004 American President Collection Andrew Jackson Ornament.

That night, the President encouraged the children to hang their Christmas stockings in his bedroom and even allowed himself to be talked into hanging his own stocking for the first time in his 68 years. On Christmas morning, the children raced into Jackson’s chamber to see what St. Nick had left. They each received a silver quarter, candy, nuts, cake, and fruit in addition to a small toy. The President received slippers, a corncob pipe, and a tobacco bag.

Later that day, the children who had received the White House Christmas card invitations arrived at the residence and found the East Room decorated with mistletoe and other seasonal foliage. They participated in song, games and danced throughout the afternoon. At dinnertime, the youngsters filed into the dining room two-by-two as the band played “The President’s March.” The French chef had created a remarkable feast including winter scenes filled with animals carved out of icing and confectionery sugar. Also featured were cakes shaped like apples, pears, and corn. In the center, there was a large pyramid of cotton “snowballs” – frosted creations which exploded when struck in a certain way.

The Hermitage, the Nashville home of Andrew Jackson, where he spent several Christmas holidays following his stay in the White House

After dinner, the children were allowed to participate in a wild snowball fight. While some of the adults feared that the festivities were getting out of hand, President Jackson cheered them on, taking great pleasure in their youthful enthusiasm.

After two terms, Jackson retired to his estate, the Hermitage, outside Nashville, Tennessee. He remained a force in national politics and was instrumental in the elections of Democrats Martin Van Buren in 1836 and James K. Polk in 1844. He died from tuberculosis in 1845 at the age of 78.

President Martin Van Buren 1837-1841

President William Henry Harrison and First Lady Anna 1841-1841

William Henry Harrison was not in the White House long enough to enjoy a Christmas season, serving only one month before he died. It is very clear that he did not send White House Christmas cards. The first known Christmas cards sold in the United States weren’t until 1843, two years after Harrison’s election in 1841. The custom of sending White House Christmas cards began officially with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, although many prior presidents sent Christmas cards to family and friends.

President William Henry Harrison was portrayed in a 1991 Christmas ornament issued by the White House Historical Society. He was depicted atop a white charger in full military regalia. Harrison spent many years on the Northwest Frontier (as it was known in his time) probably spending Christmas with family or his troops. There is little written about President Harrison’s Christmas celebrations prior to his short tenure in the White House. There is little doubt that he would have followed his Episcopalian beliefs in any Christmas observances.

Grouseland, the Northwest Frontier home of William Henry Harrison, where he spent many Christmas seasons before his short stint in the White House

At the age of 67, William Henry Harrison became the oldest man elected as President of the United States until Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. He won on the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” on the Whig ticket. The Harrison’s must have had a busy Christmas season in 1840 preparing to move to the White House.

President Harrison gave the longest inauguration speech in history and had the shortest term. He was the first president to die in office. He served only 30 days before dying of pneumonia. His wife, Anna, never had a chance to be First Lady, but was given a widow’s pension of $25,000 and lifetime franking privilege. President William Henry Harrison was buried in Ohio and the Whig party died with him.

President John Tyler and First Ladies Lettitia and Julia 1841-1845

There were probably no White House Christmas cards sent at the beginning of the Tyler administration. There is no information whatsoever as to whether the Tyler family followed that present-day Christmas tradition, but it was not until 1843 – during the middle of the Tyler administration – that the first commercial Christmas cards were even commissioned. That card was quite controversial as it showed a family and their young child partaking of some wine drinking, a picture of which would have been scandalous had the Tyler’s sent out something similar as their White House Christmas cards. Although Christmas cards were not exchanged, it is known that President Tyler enjoyed hosting Christmas parties for young children.

Married to wife Letitia since 1813, by 1839 she had become an invalid. After her husband acceded to the presidency, a daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper, became the President’s official hostess since the First Lady was not able to perform her official duties. On September 10, 1842, after a lengthy illness, Letitia died.

An illustration of party for children thrown by President John Tyler, perhaps a Christmas party

During the following year, the widower Tyler had taken notice of an outgoing and quite beautiful young woman named Julia Gardiner, daughter of Senator Daniel Gardiner of New York, whose family usually spent the winter social season in Washington. It was a special White House Christmas that followed as the President hosted a special Christmas Eve gathering of the Tyler and the Gardiner families. Their friendship turned into love in the succeeding months and the two were married on June 26, 1844.

Serving as First Lady for only a little more than eight months until the end of her husband’s term, Julia made quite an impact during her short reign. At the age of 24 and 30 years younger than her husband, she was the youngest woman to serve as First Lady. Bringing gaiety and a youthful feel to the White House, she made sure that the song “Hail to the Chief” was played at state occasions and she also introduced the Waltz and Polka to White House dance festivities. The one Christmas Julia spent as White House hostess must have been one of joy and celebration.

President James K. Polk and First Lady Sarah 1845-1849


James K. Polk is considered by historians to be the last strong pre-Civil War president. In his one term, he nearly doubled the territory of the United States, strengthened the economic power of the federal government, promoted trade, and bolstered the power of the chief executive. While nearly all give him credit for greatly strengthening the nation, he is often criticized for his lack of a forward-looking vision on the issue of slavery.

Polk accomplished the first two fiscal goals before the middle of his term. These policies were popular in the South and West, but not in Pennsylvania and much of the northeast. His first foreign policy victory came four days after Christmas of 1845, when Texas was admitted to the Union as the 28th state. This angered Mexico, which viewed the area as its own breakaway province. Avoiding a costly war, Polk reached an agreement with Great Britain to recognize the 49th parallel as the border between British Canada and the U.S., acquiring slightly more than half of the Oregon territory in the process. Acquisition of California and New Mexico would prove more difficult as the Mexican government refused Polk’s $20-30 million offer for the territories and by the spring of 1846, the nations would find themselves at war.

The Tennessee home of President Polk where he celebrated Christmas with Mrs. Polk before taking up residence in the White House

The Tennessee home of President Polk where he celebrated Christmas with Mrs. Polk before taking up residence in the White House

The country expanded again when Iowa gained statehood three days after Christmas. Another important event in American history occurred about a week after the holiday season when The Philanthropist became The National Era, and declared itself the country’s leading anti-slavery periodical. A few years later, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s highly-influential novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, would first be published as a 40-week serial in The National Era, further stoking the abolitionist movement. A few weeks before Christmas of 1847, another influential anti-slavery publication first rolled off the presses when former slave Frederick Douglass published the North Star.

President Zachary Taylor and First Lady Margaret 1849-1850


Zachary Taylor served as the 12th President of the United States before dying in office after leading our nation for only 16 months. Having spent only one Christmas in the White House (1849), there is no information as to how the President and his family celebrated the holidays or whether they exchanged White House Christmas cards with friends and acquaintances.

Indeed, First Lady Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor cared so little about performing the traditional social duties of a president’s wife that she would not have had a hand in sending out White House Christmas cards anyway. In fact, President Taylor was empathetic to his wife’s feelings of not wanting to take on the role of presidential spouse since his wife had endured a life of hardships as the spouse of a career military man. One of their daughters, newly-married Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Taylor Bliss, assumed her mother’s role at official functions and carried on in that capacity during President Taylor’s short term in office. Whether Betty Taylor Bliss had a hand in overseeing the exchange of White House Christmas cards is unknown as well.

Kentucky boyhood home of Zachary Taylor where he spent Christmas with his seven brothers and sisters

Kentucky boyhood home of Zachary Taylor where he spent Christmas with his seven brothers and sisters

By the summer of the following year, during the final stages of the eventual agreement on the issue which became known as the Compromise of 1850, President Taylor died. At a ceremony on the 4th of July connected with the building of the Washington Monument and celebrating the 74th birthday of our country, the President drank a large amount of cold water along with cherries and iced milk to help overcome the high temperatures. After contacting gastroenteritis and suffering from a high fever that night, Taylor passed away four days later from a reported coronary thrombosis.

Taylor’s death, however, has been clouded in controversy. Being a robust man in good health, historians have surmised that perhaps because of the controversy surrounding the country at that time, certain people upset with Taylor’s stance on slavery might have had reason to do him harm. In 1991, acting on the idea that Taylor was possibly poisoned, the former president’s body was exhumed, and hair and fingernail samples were taken. After testing, it was determined that there was arsenic present but the levels were too low to consider that Taylor – rather than Abraham Lincoln – had been the first president of the United States to have been assassinated.

A special note of thanks goes to our friends at White House Christmas Cards, for allowing us to use some of their outstanding research material as part of this presentation. If you are interested in a more in-depth study of Christmas in the White House, we highly recommend you visit their site.

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The History of Christmas at the White House 1850-1901

President Millard Fillmore and First Ladies Abigail and Caroline 1850-1853


Millard Fillmore spent several Christmas seasons in Washington D.C. but only three as President of the United States. President Fillmore and his wife, Abigail Powers, had grown accustomed to spending the Christmas holidays away from their children due to Millard’s political career. Millard Fillmore and his wife would take great care in selecting Christmas gifts to send home to their children, who were attending school in New York. Mr. Fillmore was especially apt to select books to send to the children.

Mrs. Fillmore had grown ill by the time Mr. Fillmore took over the presidency after the death of Zachary Taylor. President Fillmore’s daughter, Mary Abigail Fillmore, took over the First Lady’s White House hostess duties including all duties associated with the White House Christmas celebrations. The President’s daughter was an accomplished musician and would perform at several White House functions. Since the first Christmas cards were believed to be designed and printed in London, England just 10 years prior to the end of Millard Fillmore’s tenure as president, it is doubtful it ever occurred to President Fillmore or his wife to send White House Christmas cards.

The East Aurora, New York home of President Fillmore, where he celebrated several Christmas holidays with his family before entering the political arena in Washington and moving to the White House.

The East Aurora, New York home of President Fillmore, where he celebrated several Christmas holidays with his family before entering the political arena in Washington and moving to the White House.

President Fillmore’s wife would not live to see another Christmas after leaving the White House. Mrs. Fillmore had chronic health issues but insisted on standing by her husband’s side as his successor, Franklin Pierce, was sworn in. There was a raw northeast wind in the air and it snowed over the crowd. She returned to the Willard Hotel – chilled – and developed pneumonia. She died there on March 30, 1853.

President Fillmore’s daughter, Mary Abigail Fillmore, died of cholera a little over a year after her mother’s death. President Fillmore decided to go abroad and tour Europe, spending at least one Christmas season overseas.

President Franklin Pierce and First Lady Jane 1853-1857

Franklin Pierce served for one term as the 14th President of the United States just prior to the Civil War. Pierce’s four years in the White House was marked by a great deal of political turbulence and it is assumed that the thought of sending Christmas greetings would be buried under the weight of his responsibilities.

President Pierce may not have sent White House Christmas Cards, but he did have a Christmas tree put up in the White House. He is widely hailed as having the first White House Christmas tree, however, the first official “National Christmas Tree” was lit in 1923 by President Calvin Coolidge on the section of the White House lawn known as the Ellipse. Pierce had the Christmas tree decorated in 1856 for a group of Washington Sunday School children. The practice of putting up a Christmas tree was brought to the United States by German immigrants and was in vogue during the mid 1800s. Prior to this, decorations consisted of holly and pine cones and sprigs of green.

White House Christmas ornament from 1997 honoring Franklin Pierce featuring the White House grounds as they would have appeared during his time

The White House was much more festive for this Christmas celebration, and carolers sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing to the children. There isn’t a written description of the festivities, but what would Christmas be without a treat, so they may have served refreshments

In 1997 the White House Historical Society issued its annual Christmas ornament – depicting the White House as it looked during the presidency of Franklin Pierce. This special ornament features the White House lawn as people are strolling on the grounds in a casual fashion. It appears to be a peaceful scene, although President Pierce’s term in office was not at all peaceful.

President James Buchanan 1857-1861

Few leaders have faced the harrowing dilemma our 15th President, James Buchanan, suffered during the Christmas season of 1860. In the most polarizing of elections, the nation had just voted to have Abraham Lincoln succeed him. Numerous southern states saw Lincoln’s election as the death knell for slavery, the growing irrelevance of their role in the federal government and direction of the nation, and an end to the southern way of life. Led by South Carolina, seven (and later 11) of these disaffected commonwealths had begun the process of drawing up Articles of Secession as Buchanan, a man with southern sympathies but a protector of the Union first, scrambled to find a solution to the exploding crisis. Surely, the President had no time or inclination to send White House Christmas cards during that bleak winter.

Wheatland, the Pennsylvania country estate of James Buchanan, where he would spend Christmas during his time away from the White House

Wheatland, the Pennsylvania country estate of James Buchanan, where he would spend Christmas during his time away from the White House

President Buchanan underestimated the depth of the antipathy of feelings between northern abolitionist forces and the southern pro-slavery ranks. By the 1860 election, President Buchanan’s unpopularity made it a foregone conclusion that he would not be re-nominated. The party split between the more moderate northern branch and the more fervently pro-slavery southern wing and nominated two different candidates for the presidency. This ensured the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln followed by the secession of the deep-South states and ultimately, the Civil War. Buchanan retired to his Wheatland estate near Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he would spend his last seven Christmases. He supported Lincoln during the war, as he felt that saving the Union was the paramount issue.

President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary 1861-1865

Christmas is not a topic that one often associates with our Civil War president. During the first Christmas of the war, Mrs. Lincoln arranged flowers, read books, helped serve meals, talked with the staff, and cared for the wounded at Campbell’s and Douglas hospitals. She personally raised a thousand dollars for Christmas dinners and donated a similar amount for oranges and lemons when she heard that there was a threat of scurvy.

During the Christmas season of 1863, the Lincolns son, Tad, had accompanied his father on hospital visits and noticed the loneliness of the wounded soldiers. Deeply moved, the boy asked his father if he could send books and clothing to these men. The President agreed and packages signed “From Tad Lincoln” were sent to area hospitals that Christmas.

One Christmas Tad Lincoln befriended the turkey that was to become Christmas dinner. He interrupted a cabinet meeting to plead with his father to spare the bird. The President obliged by writing a formal pardon for the turkey named Jack!

Commissioned by Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Nast illustrated the cover of Harper’s Weekly in January of 1863, depicting Father Christmas (a.k.a. Santa Claus) as we imagine him today

Commissioned by Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Nast illustrated the cover of Harper’s Weekly in January of 1863, depicting Father Christmas (a.k.a. Santa Claus) as we imagine him today

It was during the Civil War that Harper’s Weekly illustrator/cartoonist Thomas Nast became a contributor to the Union’s war effort. Nast, who became known for his Christmas drawings and was generally credited with depicting Santa Claus as we know him today, had initially worked for Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election creating campaign posters. Nast’s ability to stunningly depict Civil War battles and scenes prompted Lincoln to remark that Nast was “our best recruiting sergeant. His emblematic cartoons have never failed to arouse enthusiasm and patriotism.”
There is no evidence that the Lincoln family ever decorated a Christmas tree during their years in the White House.

What also was special at Christmastime was the serving of special foods for dinner: turkey, venison, biscuits, chicken salad, fruit, cake, and eggnog. A famous story involved son, Tad, who during one particular holiday season, pleaded with his father to not have a certain turkey (named Jack) killed for Christmas dinner because Tad considered Jack his pet. The President wrote a formal pardon, saving the life of the turkey. The Lincolns never did have a Christmas tree at the White House, although a short walk away there was a tree they may have gone to see when they attended services at the First Presbyterian Church.

Thomas Nast's illustration, Lincoln's Christmas Box to Jeff Davis, depicting the choices the South had as the Civil War came to an end

Thomas Nast's illustration, Lincoln's Christmas Box to Jeff Davis, depicting the choices the South had as the Civil War came to an end

In the years following Lincoln’s death, there were several Christmas-related illustrations done by Thomas Nast showing the Lincoln family, which proved to be very popular. One showed the family gathered around son, Tad, who was seated in a chair opening Christmas presents in 1861. Another was of Tad on Lincoln’s shoulders, along with Willie, peering into a toy store, seemingly mesmerized by all the Christmas goodies they saw through the window. Yet another showed Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, circa 1860, hanging a wreath on their front door at their home in Springfield, Illinois.

The 2004 American President Collection Abraham Lincoln Ornament

The 2004 American President Collection Abraham Lincoln Ornament

To many, Abraham Lincoln’s death at the hands of an assassin made him a martyr. Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment occurred less than eight months after his death and made the abolishment of slavery official – an important part of his legacy, as is the fact that he was successful in saving the Union. Historians and admirers have always mentioned that the moniker, “Honest Abe,” had been associated with Lincoln as far back as his days as a lawyer because he embodied the attributes of integrity, respect, and freedom for others no matter what their station in life.

As a result of his accomplishments and moral attributes for which Abraham Lincoln is known, historians agree that he should be considered among the best – if not the best – President of the United States our country has known.

President Andrew Johnson and First Lady Elizabeth 1865-1869


Andrew Johnson originally of Tennessee, serving as Vice President of the United States at the end of the Civil War, was thrust into the presidency upon the assassination of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. There is no information concerning how the Johnson family celebrated the Christmas holiday while he served in the nation’s highest office or whether they exchanged White House Christmas cards during his term as president.

Aside from having been born four days after Christmas on December 29, 1808, the only other Christmas-related occurrence associated directly with Andrew Johnson was one of his last – and yet a most significant of acts – when on Christmas Day in 1868, he granted unconditional and full amnesty to any and all former Confederates charged with treason, specifically the former President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and former Confederate Vice President, Andrew Stephens. The proclamation read, in part:

…the President of the United States…do hereby proclaim and declare unconditionally and without reservation, to all and every person who, directly or indirectly, participated in the late insurrection or rebellion a full pardon and amnesty for the offense of treason against the United States…with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution…

2001 commemorative ornament featuring President Johnson taking his family for a carriage ride during Christmas at the White House

2001 commemorative ornament featuring President Johnson taking his family for a carriage ride during Christmas at the White House

During his presidency, Johnson often took his family on carriage rides. A special Christmas ornament with a 24kt. gold finish in several colors was commissioned in 2001 and features a reproduction of the type of carriage used by the family during Christmas of 1867. Although there is no written descriptions concerning Christmas celebrations in the White House, President Johnson is credited with being the first to have an Easter Egg Roll at the White House. Also, he declared a Thanksgiving holiday for December 7th in 1865 and was the first President to give government employees that day off, making Thanksgiving a legal holiday.

Although it has been substantiated that the first “official” White House Christmas tree was displayed in 1853 during the reign of President Franklin Pierce, having a tree during the Christmas season did not become a yearly staple for presidents until the Kennedy administration.

The Greeneville, Tennessee home of Andrew Johnson, where he spent Christmas with his family before and after living in the White House

The Greeneville, Tennessee home of Andrew Johnson, where he spent Christmas with his family before and after living in the White House

Although many different ornaments most certainly have been displayed on those indoor trees over the many years, it was not until 2007 that two artists from Greeneville designed and painted a special Christmas ornament featuring Johnson’s likeness, which was to be displayed on the White House Christmas tree. The artists, who were commissioned by the Andrew Johnson Historic Site, were sent the large, ostrich-sized white egg by the White House. For the front, they found a clear photograph of Johnson and superimposed a sepia-toned print of the picture over a mountain scene they had drawn, while the back showed President Johnson’s monument from the national cemetery where he and his family are buried. The ornament graced the White House tree at the end of that year to honor the beginning of the bicentennial of Andrew Johnson’s birthday.

President Ulysses S. Grant and First Lady Julia 1869-1877

Although there is no information about White House Christmas cards sent out by Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States, and his wife, Julia, the Grant name has been connected with two important events involving Christmas itself. During his first presidential term in 1870, the former General in Chief of the Union Army signed into law the bill that had been introduced by Illinois Congressman Burton Chuancey Cook, making Christmas a legal holiday. The bill also declared that New Year’s Day, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving Day would also be national holidays.

The General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon National Park, California, deemed the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” by Calvin Coolidge in 1926

The General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon National Park, California, deemed the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” by Calvin Coolidge in 1926

The other significant Christmas-related event involving Ulysses S. Grant was the naming in 1867 of a giant sequoia tree as the General Grant Tree (this took place two years after the end of the Civil War and two years before Grant was elected president). Located in California southeast of Yosemite National Park, in what is now called Kings Canyon National Park, the approximately 2,000-year-old tree today measures almost 270 feet high, 40 feet across its base with a circumference of 108 feet. In 1926 President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the huge sequoia the “Nation’s Christmas Tree.”

Three decades later, President Dwight Eisenhower proclaimed the tree to be a national shrine and a living memorial to those who gave their lives serving the United States. Each Christmas, a wreath is laid at the tree’s base to honor the United States’ fallen war heroes.

There is no information available concerning how the Grant family may have celebrated the Christmas holiday. Exchanging White House Christmas cards was not yet a standard practice and there is no mention of a White House Christmas tree being displayed in the executive mansion.

Grant's Tomb, the national memorial in New York, the state where the former President Grant and his family spent their last Christmases together before his death in 1885

Grant's Tomb, the national memorial in New York, the state where the former President Grant and his family spent their last Christmases together before his death in 1885

In 1881, former President Grant and his family moved to New York City where they had purchased a home. For income, the Grants lived off of money friends had raised for them. Unfortunately, the family’s entire portfolio was invested in a banking partnership whose funds were swindled, causing the Grants to be (as they were 25 years before) without financial resources. In addition to the family’s dire financial plight, it was also around this time when Grant found out that he was suffering from throat cancer. To compound the family’s problems, on Christmas Eve in 1883, the former president injured his hip after slipping on a sidewalk that was covered with ice. He quickly contracted pneumonia and suffered from boils and bedsores during his confinement.

In 1885, Congress voted to reinstate Grant’s full general ranking along with providing a decent salary. While terminally ill, Grant had been moved to Mount McGregor in Saratoga County, New York for health reasons, and this was where he spent his last days working on his memoirs, writing his recollections in longhand since he was unable to speak because of the cancer which was killing him. The well-received publication earned the family more than $450,000.

President Rutherford B. Hayes and First Lady Lucy 1877-1881

President Rutherford B. Hayes was well known for his prolific letter writing before, during, and after he was president. There are many letters that were preserved from his four years spent in the White House. Although Hayes wrote a great deal during his presidency there is no indication whether or not he sent White House Christmas cards. Since the first known Christmas cards offered for sale in America date back to 1875, we can presume that President Hayes did not send out Christmas cards during his stay in the White House.

President Hayes kept a diary from the age of 12 through his death at age 70. Many of his White House moments have been recorded in these journal entries. While it’s been established that Hayes did not send out White House Christmas cards, he did send out letters during the holiday season to his uncle describing how he spent Christmases in the White House. In 1877 he wrote in his diary:

December 26, 1887 – Our visit to New York, 21st and 24th, was a most happy one. The Union League reception, 22nd, the American Museum of Natural History opening, and the New England dinner, all enjoyable. Christmas, the presents to the children made them and their parents equally happy.

The Doll House given to Fanny Hayes on her first Christmas in the White House, which was put on display by Pat Nixon along with several White House Christmas cards received by Rutherford B. Hayes during his presidency.

The Doll House given to Fanny Hayes on her first Christmas in the White House, which was put on display by Pat Nixon along with several White House Christmas cards received by Rutherford B. Hayes during his presidency.

President Hayes had eight children – one girl and seven boys. Hayes was quite staunch in his love and affection for his children often mentioning them with humor in his diary. Christmas of 1880 was spent in the White House library with his children, some friends, and the servants. The Christmas presents were kept in the Red Room and his children would run to get one gaily wrapped present at a time and bring them to the President, who would then take a great deal of time distributing the gifts to the proper recipients. All parties present shared in the fun and received at least a five dollar gold piece from President Hayes.

While serving as United States President, Hayes spent four Christmases in the White House, and there is evidence that he received several Christmas cards. President Richard Nixon’s wife Pat set up a Christmas display in the East Wing corridor that included three Christmas cards received by President Hayes during his term and a large doll house made for Fanny Hayes by White House carpenters, given to her during her first Christmas in the White House.

The 2004 Rutherford B. Hayes Ornament

The 2004 Rutherford B. Hayes Ornament

During his presidency, Hayes asked his wife to not serve wine or liquor in the White House. Many people believe that Lucy Hayes had a lot to do with that and she was dubbed “Lemonade Lucy,” but in reality, Lucy never asked her husband to practice abstinence, but President Hayes felt that there was no place in politics for alcohol and he wanted to set a good example. Although the lack of alcoholic beverages was his decision he once told a reporter, “I don’t know how much influence Mrs. Hayes has on Congress, but she has great influence with me.” Neither President Hayes nor his wife endorsed the temperance league, but rather practiced in the White House the same habits as they practiced at home in Ohio. Christmas sing-a-longs, lemonade refreshments, and casual hospitality were a natural way of life for the Hayes family – both in and out of the White House.

President James A. Garfield and First Lady Lucretia 1881-1881

James A. Garfield was born into humble circumstances on November 19, 1831 in Moreland Hills, Ohio. His father passed away before his second Christmas and young James was raised by his mother, brother, and uncle. As a teenager, he drove canal boat teams to earn money and probably never imagined that one day he would be in a position to send White House Christmas cards. Garfield attended Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later Hiram College) in Ohio. He went on to Williams College in Massachusetts, where he was known as an exceptional student, and graduated in 1856. After a brief stint as a preacher, he became a professor and returned to his former school in Ohio and was named President of the Institute within a year. He married his wife, Lucretia, in 1858 and the couple would have seven children. Garfield entered politics and was elected to the Ohio state senate in 1859.

Garfield spent Christmas 1880 sequestered at his Lawnfield Estate in Mentor, Ohio, poring over the inaugural addresses of all previous presidents, but he did not finish writing his own speech until just before the inauguration. In it, he spoke of the triumph of Constitutional law in the Civil War and he described the elevation of the African American race from slavery to citizenship as “the most important political change… since the adoption of the Constitution.”

Lawnfield, the Mentor, Ohio estate of Garfield, where he and his family spent many Christmases together

Lawnfield, the Mentor, Ohio estate of Garfield, where he and his family spent many Christmases together

On the morning of July 2, 1881, Garfield traveled to the Washington train station. He planned to join his wife on vacation at the New Jersey shore, but was shot in the back by Charles Guiteau, a deranged lawyer who had unsuccessfully sought Garfield’s appointment to a European ambassadorship. The bullet lodged near the President’s spine. Doctors tried for weeks to locate it, prodding the President’s wound with unsterilized instruments and fingers. In early September, after a series of infections, he was moved to the seaside town of Long Branch, New Jersey. He died from an internal hemorrhage on September 19. Most historians agree that with medical practices observed just 20 or 25 years later, Garfield’s injury would not have proved fatal.

President Chester A. Arthur and First Lady Ellen 1881-1885

Chester Alan Arthur was administered the oath of office as the 21st President of the United States on September 20, 1881, just before the Christmas season and shortly after the assassination of President James Garfield. When Garfield won the nomination for president, several people were asked and refused the nomination for Vice President. Going against his mentor’s advice Chester Arthur accepted the nomination of Vice President stating, “This is a higher honor than I have ever dreamt of attaining. I shall accept!” (not realizing he would shortly take over the presidency).

The Official White House 2006 Chester A Arthur Ornament

The Official White House 2006 Chester A Arthur Ornament

Chester Arthur’s last Presidential Christmas was celebrated in the White House. He enjoyed a Christmas drink with Senator Wade Hampton of South Carolina before calling for the family sleigh so he could accompany his son on a long drive. The President and his family enjoyed a Christmas dinner at the home of the Secretary of State. He received many Christmas gifts including a hammered silver button hook and boxes of premium cigars. Each of the White House servants was given a shiny five-dollar gold piece. Just a few days after the first family’s Christmas celebration, President Arthur’s daughter, Ellen “Nellie”, served as a waitress at a Christmas dinner for poor children and encouraged her father’s support of the charity.

President Grover Cleveland and First Lady Francis 1885-1889, 1893-1897

When Grover Cleveland first became President in 1885, he hardly stopped working long enough to celebrate anything, let alone the Christmas holidays. Then in 1886, the 50-year-old Cleveland married his deceased law partner’s daughter, 22-year-old Frances Folsom and between terms, their first child, “Baby Ruth,” was born. We can imagine that the President’s life was never the same from that point on!

Although there was no Christmas tree during the first Cleveland administration, when daughters Ruth, Esther, and Marion were born, this quickly changed. In 1895, a tree was set up, decorated with electric lights, gold angels with spreading wings, gold and silver sleds, tops of every description, and lots of tinsel. Under the tree was a miniature White House and a doll house for Esther, who was the only daughter of a President to be born in the White House.

The Cleveland family Christmas tree in 1896

The Cleveland family Christmas tree in 1896

Mrs. Cleveland’s main Christmas activity, rather than entertaining and decorating, was her work with the Christmas Club of Washington to provide food, clothing, and toys to poor children in the D.C. area. She took the time to wrap and distribute gifts to the children and sat with them for a Punch and Judy show. Although Christmas Club charities in Washington date back to the 1820’s, no previous first lady had taken as prominent a role in these activities as Frances Cleveland, who helped set a tradition of good works carried on by Lou Hoover, Eleanor Roosevelt and many other First Ladies.

President Benjamin Harrison and First Lady Caroline and Mary 1889-1893

While it is reported that President Franklin Pierce was the first to decorate a White House Christmas tree, the tradition was not begun in earnest and announced to the public until the presidency of Benjamin Harrison over four decades later. On the morning of December 25, 1889, the Harrison family gathered in the second-floor Oval Room of the White House (later called the Blue Room) and stood around a tree decorated with glass ornaments, toy soldiers, and lit candles.

President Harrison’s young grandchildren, Benjamin and Mary McKee, were the leading recipients of gifts, which filled tables and stockings hung from the mantel. Besides the presents, candy and nuts were distributed to family and staff, and the President distributed turkeys and gloves to his employees. While there is no mention of White House Christmas Cards being exchanged, Harrison did receive a silver dollar-shaped picture holder from his daughter, Mary Scott “Mamie” Harrison McKee. First Lady Caroline Harrison, an artist, was instrumental in planning how the tree would be adorned. The Harrisons played an essential role in setting the stage for a tradition which has lasted to the present day, as the First Family’s Christmas tree is still set up in the same location in the White House chosen by the 23rd President of the United States.

The Oval Room, where the Harrisons formally erected the first White House Christmas tree

The Oval Room, where the Harrisons formally erected the first White House Christmas tree

The Harrisons were a religious clan and were known for throwing lavish, well-attended feasts at the White House in observance of the Christmas holiday. The following is the menu from their 1890 holiday celebration: to start they had Blue Point Oysters on the half shell and Consommé Royal; the main portion consisted of Bouchées a la Reine (pastries filled with a sweetbread and béchamel mixture), turkey, cranberry jelly, potatoes Duchesse, stewed celery, terrapin a la Maryland, salad with plain dressing, mince pie, and American plum pudding; and for dessert they had ice cream tutti-fruiti, lady fingers, macaroons, Carlsbad Wafers, and an assortment of fruit. Harrison’s Christmas parties are credited with popularizing the Carlsbad Wafers, a German-Czech creation which remains popular to this day, particularly in the California wine country.

The 2008 White House Benjamin Harrison Ornament

The 2008 White House Benjamin Harrison Ornament

He retired to his law practice in Indiana, and after spending four Christmases alone, married his second wife, Mary Lord Dimmick, in 1896. The couple had Harrison’s third child, a daughter named Elizabeth, in 1897. He returned to the spotlight briefly to serve as chief counsel to Venezuela in a border dispute with Great Britain before dying of pneumonia at his home in Indianapolis in 1901. Harrison would be the last Civil War general to serve as President.

President William McKinley and First Lady Ida 1897-1901

President William McKinley celebrated four Christmas Seasons in the White House but would not make it to see the first Christmas of his second term in office. McKinley met his untimely death just before the Christmas Season in 1901, when he was assassinated by Leon Frank Czolgosz on September 6 of that year.

President McKinley and wife Ida Saxton celebrated Christmas of 1898 in the White House. The manner in which the First Family celebrated Christmas was mostly dictated by Mrs. McKinley’s health at the time. This was the second year of President McKinley’s first term, and he and the First Lady decided to spend the holidays at home in the White House. Just prior to Christmas, Mrs. McKinley was feeling strong enough to make a special trip to New York to purchase gifts for the White House servants and attachés. Several of the executive couple’s friends and associates from Ohio arrived to spend Christmas in Washington. When attending church services, their minister spoke of God’s Christmas gift of freedom to an oppressed people. Later in the afternoon the couple took advantage of the pleasant but brisk weather they were experiencing and went for a drive.

1898 article from the New York Times archive discussing how President McKinley celebrated Christmas

1898 article from the New York Times archive discussing how President McKinley celebrated Christmas

Many gifts arrived for the President and his wife during the Christmas Season in 1899 including the fattest, juiciest turkey from Rhode Island, which had been sent to the White House compliments of the raiser. Mrs. McKinley was quite ill during Christmas, preventing her from participating in the same celebrations as the year before. The President and First Lady invited their nieces to the White House to celebrate Christmas with them along with a few other family members, making the gathering quite small by White House standards. There is no record of any White House Christmas cards being sent during the years William McKinley was in office, but Mrs. McKinley was a creative First Lady who would have surely added a unique and personal touch to any Christmas cards sent. Being so ill, Mrs. McKinley was unable to travel to New York or anywhere else to purchase gifts for the White House staff. Instead, she crafted unique and thoughtful gifts for all the unmarried attachés showing her flair for creativity. It was customary for all married staff members to receive a turkey for the holidays.

A special note of thanks goes to our friends at White House Christmas Cards, for allowing us to use some of their outstanding research material as part of this presentation. If you are interested in a more in-depth study of Christmas in the White House, we highly recommend you visit their site.

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The History of Christmas at the White House (1901-1953)

President Theodore Roosevelt and First Ladies Alice and Edith 1901-1909

As the youngest man ever to take the oath of office, Theodore Roosevelt came to the White House with a large, vivacious young family. With him were his wife, Edith, and his six children aged three through seventeen. While there is no record of the 26th President sending any official White House Christmas cards, there is much written about how the Roosevelts would spend their holiday celebrations.

President Roosevelt posing for a portrait photograph with the entire Roosevelt clan

President Roosevelt posing for a portrait photograph with the entire Roosevelt clan

For the first couple and their children, Christmas would begin at seven in the morning, when all the children and their terrier would bound into their parents’ chamber to claim the gifts which filled each of their stockings. After a hearty Christmas breakfast, the family would move to the library, where the children’s larger gifts were set out on tables. The President reveled in the sheer joy on his younger children’s faces when the library doors were thrown open and all their newfound treasures were lain out before them, “like a materialized fairy land.”

2004 American President Collection Theodore Roosevelt Ornament

2004 American President Collection Theodore Roosevelt Ornament

The most frequently told story regarding President Roosevelt and Christmas deals with the infamous White House Christmas tree ban during the early years of his presidency. Roosevelt, a famed outdoorsman and environmentalist, took office at a time of growing public concern over the feared destruction of forests due to damaging lumbering practices. The cutting down and displaying of Christmas trees was viewed, in some quarters, as one of the more blatant examples of deforestation due to unnecessary commercial causes. Many newspapers of the day took to publishing articles denouncing the use of live trees and promoting the purchase of artificial “wire” trees, which could last a generation and spare these gifts of nature from a premature and inglorious end.

An ornament featuring former US President Theodore Roosevelt is hung on the official White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room in 2008

Burnishing his environmental credentials, Roosevelt refused to display a Christmas tree in the White House, fearing that to do so would be sending the wrong message to the public and be fodder for his political opponents. In 1901, the Roosevelt’s’ first treeless Christmas in Washington passed uneventfully. In 1902, however, Roosevelt’s two youngest sons, Archie and Quentin, cut down a small tree on the White House grounds and smuggled it into the closet of the room where the family opened gifts. The boys hung gifts for their parents from the branches and enlisted the help of the staff electrician in decorating the tree with tiny lights wired to a switch outside the closet.

1902 Washington Post illustration depicting the famous “Teddy Bear” incident, coining the term for the popular Christmas gift

1902 Washington Post illustration depicting the famous “Teddy Bear” incident, coining the term for the popular Christmas gift

On Christmas morning, while the family opened gifts, Archie surprised his family by opening the closet door and throwing the switch. Amused by his boys’ ingenuity, Teddy nevertheless took them to his friend and environmental adviser (and later the first Chief of the United States Forest Service), Gifford Pinchot, to explain to them the negative effects of killing trees for decorative use. To his surprise, Pinchot went into a lengthy explanation regarding how sometimes, cutting down some larger trees was in the best interests of forests, as it allowed a larger number of smaller young trees to receive the sunlight they need to flourish. While there is no public record of any other Christmas tree being displayed in the White House during Roosevelt’s presidency, a number of environmental acts and reforestation laws had been passed by the end of his term, and the public controversy over the use of live trees for decorative and traditional use had subsided for the time being. While on a hunting expedition, he famously refused to shoot a bear cub, spurring a toy manufacturer to create the teddy bear, a fad which became one of the hot-selling Christmas gifts in 1902 and still echoes to the current day.

Teddy Roosevelt Visiting Neighbors on Christmas 1917

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President William Howard Taft and First Lady Helen 1909-1913

On the subject of William Howard Taft and Christmas, more than a few presidential historians have likened the large, jovial Taft to a Santa Claus-like figure. Few would deny that the burly Ohioan was a warm, generous and good man, but it was this very nature which made him a relatively ineffectual politician and led to a mostly forgettable presidency, which avoided any major catastrophies, other than the political ones inflicted on Taft’s party and his electoral career.

During his time in office, Taft’s famously generous nature was apparent in the scope and number of Christmas gifts he sent out. The president believed more in the act of giving than in the essential value of the gifts themselves. As did not limit his gifts to family and friends, his Christmas list often climbed into the hundreds. He would send out presidential Christmas cards to accompany the gifts. Oftentimes, his aides would have to scramble to acquire more White House cards as the list grew to ungainly lengths. Mr. Taft would usually devote several days of his own time to going Christmas shopping from store-to-store.

Flyer from the Election of 1908. Taft defeated opponent William Jennings Bryan in the election shortly before Christmas.

Flyer from the Election of 1908. Taft defeated opponent William Jennings Bryan in the election shortly before Christmas.

Among his favorite items to send were books and jewelry, and he always made his own selections. On each of the books he sent, he would write a personal sentiment inside the cover, lending these objects a lasting historical value. In addition to friends and relatives, President Taft presented Christmas gifts to all of the White House clerks. He also sent a Christmas turkey to all married White House employees – usually just over 100 turkeys for a total cost of $350 – $400. He would also give a personal holiday remembrance to each of the Secret Service men assigned to protect him.

The Taft’s were also the initial First Family to display the White House Christmas tree and hold the presidential Christmas party in the Blue Room, a location previously considered sacred to official entertaining.

President Woodrow Wilson and First Ladies Ellen and Edith 1913-1921

Woodrow Wilson had the first Christmas tree put up and decorated in the White House when he was President of the United States. Wilson was accustomed to having gatherings with the attendance of many intellectuals and family. As President he also wanted to have a national Christmas tree lighting ceremony and in 1913, the first year the president was in office, he was able to have a celebration with a Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Christmas Eve at the Capital.

President Wilson and second wife Edith Galt, whom he married around Christmas of 1915

President Wilson and second wife Edith Galt, whom he married around Christmas of 1915

President Elect Wilson received a letter from a young eight-year-old correspondent, Charles Conroy, right before Christmas in 1912. Charles’ father told him that Mr. Wilson was Santa Claus, so he sent his letter to Governor Wilson at the state house in Trenton. Wilson told his stenographer to delay the typing of letters and go shopping and see that she got everything that Charles and a few other children had asked for. Thus Charles got his Christmas presents from President Santa Claus.

The White House also had its first Christmas tree that year, although it did not become a national tradition until Calvin Coolidge became president and First Lady Grace Coolidge gave permission to put a tree on the Ellipse.

President Wilson asked that a community Christmas tree be placed at the Capitol in 1913, requesting a national tree lighting event to be started. A U.S. Marine Band, 1,000 singers, and a costumed group re-enacted the Nativity on Christmas Eve. Wilson also planted an elm tree outside the North Portico of the White House a few days before Christmas to symbolize peace and serenity. A night view of this tree would become a watercolor done by Robert H. Laessig that graced the 1966 White House Christmas cards of President Lyndon Johnson.

President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence 1921-1923

Warren G. Harding would only live to see two Christmas seasons after being elected the 29th President of the United States. President and Mrs. Harding were able to escape the stresses of Washington D.C. and their political and social obligations their first Christmas in the white house by traveling to North Carolina during the holidays.

President Harding passed away suddenly several months after celebrating what was to be his second and last Presidential Christmas in 1922. Unfortunately, Harding’s marital indiscretions were not his only shortcomings, many of which did not come to light until after he passed away.
The President sent a gift to his sister, Abigail, a former school teacher of one of Harding’s several known mistresses. Accompanying the gift was a Presidential Christmas card of sorts, a handwritten note on White House stationery. Dated December 23, 1922, the letter read:

Dear Sister Abigail, Enclosed find a little Christmas gift, a token of a brother’s loving regard. I shall think of you at Xmas time, and I shall have a real regret that I can not celebrate in the atmosphere of home and amid the surroundings of family and friends. My love and good wishes to you. Yours affectionately, Warren G. Harding

President Harding buying seals for his White House Christmas cards from a young girl with tuberculosis in 1923

President Harding buying seals for his White House Christmas cards from a young girl with tuberculosis in 1923

In addition, President Harding sent a Christmas gift of $250.00 to his mistress, his sister’s former student. His mistress purchased a diamond and sapphire bracelet with the money she received.

In the year of his death Harding was photographed buying Christmas seals from a young girl suffering with tuberculosis. The President would reach his untimely death prior to the holidays that year and would not be able to use the Christmas seals he had purchased for his official White House Christmas cards. Harding and John F. Kennedy are the only two presidents to have predeceased their fathers.

President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace 1923-1929

As the 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge was the first to truly extend a White House Christmas celebration to the American people. During his first Christmas in the White house in 1923, he initiated the tradition of the National Community Christmas Tree. A 48-foot Balsam Fir from his native state of Vermont was erected on The Ellipse, and an electric button enabled the President to light the tree on demand for the first ever National Community Christmas Tree lighting ceremony.

During the summer of 1924, Coolidge’s youngest son, Calvin, Jr., died of staphylococcus septicemia, an event that was said to have changed “Silent Cal” forever. That same year, the White House received a record setting 12,000 Christmas cards from the American public.

The Coolidge's 1927 Christmas tree

The Coolidge's 1927 Christmas tree

The Coolidges were known to send out Christmas cards, but only to family and close friends. Still mourning the loss of his son, Coolidge had told the American Forestry Association (AFA) that he was against cutting down a tree for the National Community Christmas Tree. However, the AFA managed to get Coolidge to accept a donation of a 35-foot live Norway spruce, which was planted in Sherman Plaza. The National Community Christmas Tree lighting ceremony officially became an annual celebration, but the donated tree would only last for five years due to wear and tear from decorating.

In 1925 after the National Community Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, 2,000 people were welcomed to the White House grounds for caroling led by the choir from the President’s church. And on New Year’s Day, almost 4,000 people were invited to line up and shake the hands of the President and First Lady.

Silent Cal” received his nickname from his stoic and serious demeanor. But in 1926, after receiving so many heartfelt gifts and Christmas cards from the American people, Coolidge was so emotionally affected that he gave a gift of a gold coin to all of the White House officials and staff members.

The Coolidges - 1927 signed  Christmas message

The Coolidges - 1927 signed Christmas message

1927 was a momentous year for Christmas in the White House. After receiving countless requests to address the American people with a Christmas message, Coolidge finally agreed. On Christmas morning, a short hand-written message from the President appeared in every major newspaper, making this the first Christmas greeting to be given to the American public from a president.

In 1928, Coolidge decided not to run for re-election, making this his last Christmas in the White House. At the National Community Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, Coolidge spoke to the large crowd of spectators and to the American people listening on their radios, “In token of the good-will and happiness of the holiday season and as an expression of the best wishes of the United States toward a Community Christmas Tree, in behalf of the city of Washington, I now turn on the current which will illuminate this tree.”

President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Lou 1929-1933

Herbert Hoover took office as the 31st President of the United States in March of 1929. Several months later on Tuesday, October 29, the stock market crashed triggering the onset of the Great Depression. Americans were reluctant to spend money on holiday gifts and Christmas cards, but this didn’t stop the President and First Lady Lou Henry from doing so. The First Lady had an impressive collection of old photographs of the White House and gave five different etchings of these photographs to over 200 White House staff members. Some were mounted and personalized with the greeting, “Best Wishes of Herbert Hoover and Lou Henry Hoover.” Additionally, President Hoover gave his personal staff a photo of himself on his horse, Billy, at his Rapidan Camp in Shenandoah Nation Park, Virginia.

The Hoovers - Christmas notecards from 1929

The Hoovers - Christmas notecards from 1929

Despite the poor economic climate, the White House received a surprising number of Christmas cards and gifts that year. In response to this overwhelming generosity, the President and First Lady sent out 3,100 engraved notecards with four variations of the following greeting: “The President and Mrs. Hoover cordially reciprocate your holiday greetings.

The Hoovers carried on the tradition set by the Coolidges of lighting the National Christmas Tree. The original living Norway spruce donated to Coolidge in 1924 by the AFA (American Forestry Association) had to be replaced due to wear and tear from decorating and trimming. Another living Norway spruce was donated by the AFA from Amawalk Nursery in Westchester County, New York and planted in Sherman Plaza. During the tree lighting ceremony, the President addressed the crowd and the listeners on their radios, “I want to have the privilege of wishing you all, and all the unseen audiences, a merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Aftermath of the Christmas Eve fire in the old West Wing, 1929

Aftermath of the Christmas Eve fire in the old West Wing, 1929

On Christmas Eve of 1929, an electrical fire broke out in the West Wing of the White House…the third fire in the White House since 1814. The following year, the Hoovers had the building remodeled and the roof replaced. The remodel produced heaps of wood scraps, which the Hoovers had made into gifts for their staff members. Some of these items included bookends, ashtrays, paper cutters, and boxes. Each gift was accompanied by a poem written by the First Lady.

Additionally, each gift was accompanied by an engraved card with a personalized greeting that read, “The President and Mrs. Hoover take Christmas pleasure in presenting this historic bit of pinewood with their greetings.” Mrs. Hoover also had framed photograph prints distributed to additional staff members and aides.

The Hoovers - 1932 Christmas card featuring side-by-side photographs of the executive couple

The Hoovers - 1932 Christmas card featuring side-by-side photographs of the executive couple

For Christmas in 1931, the Hoovers gave out more prints to family, staff members, and aides. Some of these included photo etchings done by J.C. Claghorn of the Washington Monument, the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater, and Mount Vernon. They also gave a etchings of the Capitol building done by well known etching artist Don Swann. All of the prints were either framed or matted. Additionally, the Hoovers gave out four different matted, framed, and signed photographs of the Washing Monument to White House staff members.

In 1932, for the Hoovers last Christmas at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they gave a gift of a leather folder that included photographs of the President and a separate photograph of the First Lady with two White House police dogs. A personal note accompanied the folder that read, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Herbert Hoover and from Lou Henry Hoover and Weegie and Pat 1932 – 33.”

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor 1933-1945

Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his first term as the 32nd President of the United States in 1933. That year, the White House received a record 40,000 Christmas and holiday cards from the American public; the number was so large that a staff had to be hired to handle the influx of mail. The Roosevelts sent Christmas cards to close family and friends. The card they ordered was single-sided and featured an etching of the White House, hand engraved by A.B. Tolly. That same year marked the 10th anniversary of the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. 5,000 people attended the ceremony, during which Roosevelt gave the longest speech to date. Roosevelt’s speech established the tradition of the president speaking directly to the American people during the tree lighting ceremony.

2004 American President Collection Franklin D. Roosevelt Ornament

2004 American President Collection Franklin D. Roosevelt Ornament

For the following holiday season, FDR gave to each executive staff member an autographed copy of his book, On Our Way, which explained his basic ideas and notions for reconstruction. The President and First Lady ordered 400 single-sided Christmas cards to be sent to family and friends, in which a photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt was inserted in a panel at the top of the card.

Tensions overseas continued to augment with the onset of the following year. Nazi forces invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland, and Germany created an alliance with Italy. France and Great Britain also created an alliance and declared war on Germany while the Soviets signed an armistice with Japan and removed all military support from China.

The Roosevelts - Christmas Card from 1935

The Roosevelts - Christmas Card from 1935

That same year, the national tree lighting ceremony was moved to Lafayette Square in order to accommodate more people. Two live Fraser firs from North Carolina were planted in the square; the trees were to be alternatively decorated each year to reduce wear and tear. 10,000 people gathered in the square for the ceremony. Roosevelt’s speech reflected the patriotism and courage of Andrew Jackson, whose statue stands at the center of the square.

In 1935, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt purchased gifts for White House staff members from Val-Kill Industries, a workshop she established with several lady friends to help low-income families supplement earnings by crafting furniture and metalware. Each pewter gift was accompanied by a single-sided Christmas card that featured a photograph of the President and First Lady. The White House that year received over 6,000 Christmas cards, and the Roosevelts sent out 400 Christmas cards to family and friends.

The following year, the First Lady again purchased metal gifts from The Forge for the White House staff. The card design featured a lithograph of a bucolic red farmhouse and barn flanked by two evergreen trees. At the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, 3,000 people were present to hear FDR’s annual speech, in which he discussed Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Scrooge’s renewed sense of self from the lessons he learned. With the reforms set into motion from the President’s First New Deal, the economy was on an up swing for the first time since the onset of the depression years.

1940 Christmas gift from the President was a key chain depicting his beloved Scottish terrier, Fala.

1940 Christmas gift from the President was a key chain depicting his beloved Scottish terrier, Fala.

Roosevelt ran for an unprecedented third term during the election of 1940. Promising to keep America out of the fighting overseas, he received 55% of the popular vote. With the closing of The Forge, FDR’s secretary ordered over 200 Scottish terrier key chains from Hammacher Schlemmer. The key chains were very near and dear to the Roosevelts, as the gifts immortalized their own beloved Scottish terrier, Fala. FDR’s secretary also ordered money clips and key chains from Cartier to be gifted to White House staff and associates.

Once America was officially at war, the Treasury Department began promoting and encouraging Americans to purchase defense bonds and stamps. Appropriate for the occasion, the Roosevelts’ Christmas gift to their White House staff was a black leather stamp album. A copy of the previous year’s Christmas speeches by Churchill and the President were given to cabinet members, heads of the executive office, family, and friends.

FDR enjoyed receiving Christmas cards as much as he enjoyed sending them. He established his own private collection of Christmas cards, and by 1940, the collection contained over 3,000 designs. The National Christmas Tree was decorated sans lights that year because electric lights were being rationed while America was at war.

For the 1943 holiday season, it was recommended that the National Community Christmas Tree not be resurrected because of the continuation of war time rationing of electricity and other commodity resources. First Lady Roosevelt insisted that the tree lighting ceremony take place because it was the one thing that Americans needed during the war-causing lackluster holiday season. And so the 20th annual National Community Christmas Tree was decorated with ornaments made by children in local schools, but similar to the year prior, the tree was without lights.

1944 Christmas gift from the President - a copy of his D-Day Prayer

1944 Christmas gift from the President - a copy of his D-Day Prayer

On the evening of the invasion of Normandy, the President issued the D-Day prayer; a copy of the prayer was given to each member of the White House staff. For close friends, FDR has the prayer made into a slip cased limited edition book. The last Christmas cards that FDR sent out maintained the same single-sided design, featuring an etching of the White House and a holly leaf with the imprinted greeting:
With Christmas Greetings and our best wishes for a Happier Nineteen Forty-five, The President and Mrs. Roosevelt

The Roosevelts spent Christmas at their home in Hyde Park again. FDR delivered his Christmas message to the American people and the troops overseas via radio broadcast from his personal library.

In April of 1945, the President left for his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he sought comfort for his paralysis in the town’s warmed mineral springs. He died on April 12 at the age of 63. Although the war wasn’t over, peace was very near thanks to his efforts.

President Harry S. Truman and First Lady Bess 1945-1953

Harry S. Truman had been Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Vice President for only 82 days before Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. Just weeks after Truman took over the Executive office as the 33rd President of the United States, the Allied forces defeated the Axis Powers and World War II came to an end. May 8 was declared as V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day), which was also Truman’s 61st birthday. Writing to his mother, he remarked, “Isn’t that some birthday present?” He held a press conference announcing the victories in Germany and Italy and the end of World War II. For Christmas that year, he gave each White House staff member a scroll of his speech from the news conference. He also sent out official White House Christmas cards, which featured a lithograph design of holly and berries along with a standard gold imprint. The back of the envelope was also imprinted in gold with the Presidential Seal.

Official 1946 White House Christmas cards from the President and First Lady

Official 1946 White House Christmas cards from the President and First Lady

For the following Christmas, as a gift to all 575 members of the White House staff, Truman gave an autographed copy of a photograph of him and First Lady Bess boarding the President’s private plane, the Sacred Crow. “Christmas 1946” was etched into the bottom of each photograph. The Trumans also had 800 Christmas cards engraved from Brewood Engravers that featured an etching of a jeweled Christmas candelabra and standard Christmas imprint.

For the 1949 Christmas gift to their White House staff (or rather the Blair House staff), the Trumans gave a leather key holder. Each holder contained a snap closure and was imprinted with a brief Christmas greeting. To a small few of the President’s closest executive team members, he gave the same paperweight from the year prior, and to his Cabinet members, he gave the bound book, Selected Speeches and Statements on Foreign Affairs by Harry S. Truman.

Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the south lawn of the White House in 1947

Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the south lawn of the White House in 1947

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean Army invaded South Korea, triggering the onset of the Korean War. Only five years after the end of World War II, global peace had been disrupted again. For Christmas that year as a gift to his White House staff, the President gave frameable copies of his Christmas Greetings 1950 message, which reflected upon his appreciation for those who whole-heartedly cared for his needs while he tended to the needs of the country. For his Cabinet members, Truman gave a set of six crystal glasses engraved with the Presidential Coat of Arms.

Christmas gift print from Truman to his staff given in 1952

Christmas gift print from Truman to his staff given in 1952

For Christmas of 1952, having decided to not run for re-election, Truman opted to spend his last holiday season as our country’s President in Washington. With renovations to the White House finally complete, the President and First Lady gave to each member of their staff a reproduction of a photograph of the White House. Each reproduction contained a gold Presidential Seal along with the greeting, “Christmas Greetings from the President and Mrs. Truman, 1952”. For the first time since 1947, the President was physically present to light the National Community Christmas Tree.

2004 American President Collection Harry S. Truman Ornament

2004 American President Collection Harry S. Truman Ornament

In his Christmas greeting to the American people, he spoke of the Korean War and re-establishing peace worldwide: “Our efforts to establish low and order in the world are not directed against any nation or any people. We seek only a universal peace, where all nations shall be free and all peoples shall enjoy their inalienable human rights.”

Harry S. Truman went back to Independence, Missouri in January of 1953 to enjoy a simpler life that didn’t involve the heaviness of politics he experienced while in Washington.

A special note of thanks goes to our friends at White House Christmas Cards, for allowing us to use some of their outstanding research material as part of this presentation. If you are interested in a more in-depth study of Christmas in the White House, we highly recommend you visit their site.

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