Category Archives: Christmas at the White House

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… The Obama Family Lights The National Christmas Tree

Posted by: Audiegrl
Written by Kori Schulman

President Barack Obama, with mother-in-law Marian Robinson, daughters Sasha and Malia, and First Lady Michelle Obama, react as they push the button to light the National Christmas Tree during a ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Ed. Note: Watch the full National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony and show with musical performances by B.B. King, Sara Bareilles, Common, Maroon 5 and more at www.thenationaltree.org.

Last night, the First Family continued a proud holiday tradition – lighting the National Christmas Tree for the 88th time. View photos from the event and watch a video of the President’s remarks, the tree lighting ceremony, and a reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by the First Lady.

President Barack Obama addresses the crowd as he and the First Family attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama and First Family listen to the program at the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

BB King performs Merry Christmas Baby at the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The National Christmas Tree shines bright during the lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington, Dec. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

“Snow or shine, in good times and in periods of hardship, folks like you have gathered with Presidents to light our national tree,” said President Obama, “Now, it hasn’t always gone off without a hitch. On one occasion, two sheep left the safety of the Nativity scene and wandered into rush-hour traffic. That caused some commotion.”

He continued, touching on the history of the ceremony and taking a moment to honor the men and women that are serving in uniform overseas this holiday season:

Often, the ceremony itself has reflected the pain and sacrifice of the times. There were years during the Second World War when no lights were hung, in order to save electricity. In the days following Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill joined President Roosevelt to wish our nation a Happy Christmas even in such perilous days.

But without fail, each year, we have gathered here. Each year we’ve come together to celebrate a story that has endured for two millennia. It’s a story that’s dear to Michelle and me as Christians, but it’s a message that’s universal: A child was born far from home to spread a simple message of love and redemption to every human being around the world.

It’s a message that says no matter who we are or where we are from, no matter the pain we endure or the wrongs we face, we are called to love one another as brothers and as sisters.

And so during a time in which we try our hardest to live with a spirit of charity and goodwill, we remember our brothers and sisters who have lost a job or are struggling to make ends meet. We pray for the men and women in uniform serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and in faraway places who can’t be home this holiday season. And we thank their families, who will mark this Christmas with an empty seat at the dinner table.

On behalf of Malia, Sasha, Michelle, Marian — who’s our grandmother-in-chief — (laughter) -– and Bo — don’t forget Bo — (applause) — I wish all of you a merry Christmas and a blessed holiday season.

And now I’m going to invite the entire Obama crew up here to help me light this Christmas tree. (Applause.)

All right, everybody, we’re going to count from five — five, four, three, two, one.

(The tree is lit.) (Applause.)

Merry Christmas, everybody!

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First Lady Michelle Obama at the Holiday Preview: “It’s the People’s House

Posted by: Audiegrl

Written by Jordan Harp

First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off the holiday season by welcoming military families who organize a local branch of the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots drive to the White House. “The idea behind this year’s theme,” Mrs. Obama said, “is Simple Gifts, because in the end, the greatest blessings of all are the ones that don’t cost a thing — the time that we spend with our loved ones, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and the joy we feel from reaching out to those in need.”

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In her remarks, the First Lady discussed the importance of opening the doors of the White House during the holiday season and thanked the nearly 100 volunteers from across the country that made it all possible:

In many ways, this is really what the White House is all about.  And I say this all the time. It’s the “People’s House.”  It’s a place that is steeped in history, but it’s also a place where everyone should feel welcome.  And that’s why my husband and I have made it our mission to open up the house to as many people as we can, especially during the holiday seasons.

So it goes without saying that when you look around, that our family never could have done all of this wonderful decorating on our own.  In fact, we only did a little bit of it. That’s why over the last few days nearly 100 volunteers from all over the country have been working so hard.  They’ve been making all the ornaments that — many of them that you’ve seen.  They’ve been hanging the lights and transforming these rooms into breathtaking works of art.  And I have to say the house looks more beautiful than it did last year.  It is really something special.

First Lady Michelle Obama talks with a boy during a craft demonstration in the State Dining Room of the White House, Dec. 1, 2010. The First Lady visited three creative stations where children of military personnel worked on holiday projects. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

Thanking the military families in attendance for their sacrifice and service, the First Lady introduced the President and CEO of “Toys for Tots,” Lieutenant General Pete Osman. Lieutenant General Osman shared a touching story about a family impacted by Toys for Tots:

A couple of years back, there was a wonderful family in D.C. — Mom, Dad, five kids.  Happy family.  And unfortunately, tragedy struck.  The father took ill and quickly passed away.  The mom, who had been a stay-at-home mom, all of a sudden found herself having to find a job while still raising her five children.  She realized she was going to have to make some tough choices, and she did.  I mean, she had a house payment to make, utilities, food to buy, clothing and all that, and she said, “We’re going to have to cut Christmas this year.”

First Lady Michelle Obama shows off a card during a craft demonstration in the State Dining Room of the White House, Dec. 1, 2010. The First Lady visited three creative stations where children of military personnel worked on holiday projects. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Now, she had to make this decision early on, probably in the October time frame.  And she was comfortable with it.  But as Christmas drew nearer and nearer, she became very concerned.  In fact, on Christmas Eve, she was distraught.  She was beside herself with the thought on Christmas morning her children were going to come downstairs and there weren’t going to be any gifts under that little Charlie Brown Christmas tree that they had.

Fortunately, the knock at the door came, and standing there were two Marines, a couple of volunteers, and a bunch of boxes full of toys.  So needless to say, for the Johnsons the next morning, they had a wonderful Christmas.

But that’s not the end of the story.  Interesting thing was one of the toys was a big old red fire truck.  And one of her sons really took a liking to that fire truck.  That became his favorite toy that day and for the rest of the next year and actually to years after that.  And as you would have it, that fire truck had an impact. Today, that man is one of D.C.’s finest.  He’s a firefighter with the D.C. Fire Department.

So if you don’t think that toy makes a difference, just remember this story.  And the great thing is, is there are thousands of stories just like that out there.

To find out ways to get involved, visit the Toys for Tots website.

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Remarks by the First Lady at Holiday Press Preview

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First Lady Michele Obama Receives the White House Christmas Tree

Posted by: Audiegrl

First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters Sasha and Malia are joined by Chris Botek and his wife Brandi as the First Family receives the White House Christmas Tree for 2010, on November 26, 2010 at the White House in Washington, DC. The 18 1/2 foot Douglas fir tree comes from Chris Botek’s tree farm in Lehighton, PA.

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Go, Tell Michelle: You’ve Read the Book, Now See the Play

Posted by Audiegrl

“When you and your family go to the spot under the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, where Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, you will take with you our history of dreams deferred; however, you will also take with you our prayers and hopes for an America that is ready to build and dream anew.”~~Excerpt from a letter to Michelle Obama

Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady was first published in January 2009. In December 2009, “Go, Tell Michelle” was named by book and movie critic Kam Williams as one of the 10 Best Black Books of 2009. My daughter gave this to me as my Mother’s Day present last year, and I highly recommend it. I thought it would be a great way to start off the new year (and new decade), to introduce the book to those who have not read it yet, and also give me a chance to provide a photo slideshow of our First Lady during the first year.

Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First LadyGo, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady”, the award winning volume of 100 letters to Michelle Obama written shortly after the 2008 election of President Barack Obama has been adapted as a dramatic production. Drs. Barbara Seals Nevergold and Peggy Brooks-Bertram, co-authors and editors of the book, have been working with Dr. Robert Knopf, chair of University at Buffalo’s Drama Department on this dramatization. The outcome of this collaboration is Dr. Knopf’s adaptation, a one hour play that features three readers.

Dr. Knopf describes “Go, Tell Michelle: the Play” as more than a dramatic reading: “It is a montage of lost voices, personal stories, and heartfelt emotions unleashed by the tide of history that has swept the nation.” Under Dr. Knopf’s direction, storyteller Karima Amin, Brooks-Bertram and Seals Nevergold will give voice to the stories and poems in this dramatic adaptation.

The play will debut on January 19th at University at Buffalo’s Allen Hall on the South Campus on the eve of the first anniversary of President Obama’s historic inauguration. Performance time is 7:00pm and Jericka Duncan, reporter from WIVB-TV will act as Emcee. A second performance will take place at the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library on January 20th. Both performances will be free and open to the public.

The Warmth, Style, and Grace of First Lady Michelle Obama

This is the short biography of Michelle Obama that introduced the Obama family to families across America. It originally played the first night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

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Drs. Barbara Seals Nevergold and Peggy Brooks-Bertram on C-SPAN Book TV (03/28/09)

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President Obama Orders a ‘Snowbama’ in Hawaii


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President Obama in Kailua Greeted by Iana Street Neighbors

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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 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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