Tag Archives: tradition

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Announce 2010 Easter Egg Roll Theme Ready, Set, Go!

Posted by: Audiegrl

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle, and their daughter Sasha welcome people to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House April 13, 2009 in Washington, DC. The event dates back to 1878 and is named for races where children push colored eggs across the grass using wooden spoons. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

The President and First Lady have announced that this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll will be held on Monday, April 5, 2010 with the theme of “Ready, Set, Go!” promoting health and wellness. The event will feature live music, sports courts, cooking stations, storytelling and, of course, Easter egg rolling. All of the activities will encourage children to lead healthy and active lives and follow the First Lady’s ‘Let’s Move!’ initiative, a national campaign to combat childhood obesity.

Souvenir White House Eggs

The 2010 White House Easter Egg Roll souvenir eggs will be available for purchase online at the National Park Foundation website. Each wooden egg is expertly crafted, painted, and includes the signatures of the President and First Lady.

The White House will open its South Lawn for children aged 12 years and younger and their families. Full ticketing information is below. We hope to see you at the White House!

Ticketing Information

The First Lady with daughter's Sasha and Malia Easter 2009

The First Lady with daughter's Sasha and Malia Easter 2009

White House Easter Egg Roll tickets will be distributed through an online lottery system, allowing guests from across the United States to participate in a tradition that dates back to 1878.

Entries for the 2010 White House Easter Egg Roll Online Lottery will be accepted from Thursday, February 25 through Sunday, February 28. One entry per person may be submitted at anytime during the lottery period. All entries will have an equal chance of being selected.

The lottery will be run on March 1. Lottery results will be available starting Thursday, March 4, 2010. Please visit www.recreation.gov to apply for the online ticket lottery.

Here’s a video roundup of the 2009 White House Easter Egg Roll

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First Lady Michelle Obama Surprises White House Tour Visitors

Posted by: Audiegrl

One year ago on January 20th, after President Obama was inaugurated, he and the First Lady decided to surprise visitors who were on White House tours to reinforce the message of the White House being the People’s House. Mrs. Obama is marking the first year by continuing this tradition – taking some time to greet visitors of the People’s House. Even first dog Bo gets in on the act. 🙂
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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 (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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The History of Christmas at the White House (1953-1977)

President Dwight Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie 1953-1961

As General of the United States Army and Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower easily became a well-liked man on domestic soil due to his military triumphs overseas. With the campaign slogan, “I Like Ike,” Eisenhower captured the majority vote in a landslide victory during the election of 1952, becoming the 34th President of the United States of America.

During his first Christmas in the White House in 1953, Eisenhower referred to Hallmark President Joyce C. Hall for assistance with his first official Christmas cards as the President of the U.S. An artist himself, Eisenhower painted a portrait of Abraham Lincoln while waiting for news on a Korean armistice. For inspiration, he used a photograph of Lincoln done by Alexander Gardner in 1863. Eisenhower ordered 1,100 white keepsake folders from Hallmark, each containing a reproduction of his Lincoln painting.

Signed card was sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie

Signed card was sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie

All of the folders were embossed with the official Presidential Seal. Over 500 of the reproductions were given to White House staff members at the annual Christmas party. Each folder was accompanied by a gift enclosure Christmas card imprinted with the words “Season’s Greetings” in gold.

Unlike other Presidents who distinguished political from household staff, the Eisenhower’s brought both together, more than 500 in all, for a Christmas party each year. For the White House staff, Mamie purchased gifts in area department stores, personally wrapping each one to save money.

Mamie Bangs gift enclosure Christmas cards design from 1957

Mamie Bangs gift enclosure Christmas cards design from 1957

As a gift from the American Public Golf Association, a putting green was installed on the South Lawn of the White House grounds for the President to enjoy. Echoing this gift, Hallmark designed a red and green accented “Mamie Bangs” personal gift enclosure Christmas card depicting the President and First Lady in a golf cart loaded with a Christmas tree and gifts. The First Family had 400 of these gift enclosure Christmas cards printed to send to close friends and relatives.

The 2005 Secret Service Eisenhower Executive Office Ornament

The 2005 Secret Service Eisenhower Executive Office Ornament

Christmas of 1958, Mamie pulled out all the stops in decorating the White House. She had 27 decorated trees, carols were piped into every room and greenery was wrapped around every column. Eisenhower Christmas trees in the White House were decorated with electric candle lights, glass balls and large amounts of tinsel. We have decorated our tree in pink because by 1955, “First Lady Pink” had become a bona fide color for hats, gloves, dresses, and nylon curtains as well as many other things

The Eisenhowers holding Christmas dinner in 1960

The Eisenhowers holding Christmas dinner in 1960

1960 marked Eisenhower’s last Christmas in the White House, and he wanted it to be the most memorable Christmas ever. A 75-foot Douglas fir cute from Oregon was used for the National Community Christmas Tree. The President’s Christmas message made mention of putting an end to prejudice because it puts “a blot on the brightness of America’s image.” He ended the night by saying, “For the last time as a part of this lovely ceremony, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a very, very happy New Year – all of you.

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President Eisenhower’s Christmas Wishes From Space 1958

Having launched its first space satellite in January 1958, the United States launched an unique communications satellite on December 18, 1958 for the Christmas season. The recorded voice of President Dwight D. Eisenhower expressed the wishes of the American people for peace and goodwill.

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President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline 1961-1963

John F. Kennedy was a Massachusetts senator when he declared his intent to run for President for the election of 1960. Defeating Hubert Humphrey for the democratic candidacy, Kennedy ran against Republic Richard M. Nixon, who was also the Vice President of the lame duck Eisenhower administration. During the first ever televised U.S. presidential debates in late September, less than two months before the election, Kennedy trumped Nixon with his poised, relaxed demeanor and handsomely tan appearance. Nixon, who was sporting his perpetual five o’clock shadow, appeared tense on camera and was 20 pounds underweight due to a serious leg injury from which he was recovering.

1961 Christmas gift from the Kennedys to their White House staff

1961 Christmas gift from the Kennedys to their White House staff

For the Kennedys’ first Christmas in the White House in 1961, as a Christmas gift to their staff they gave a photograph of little Caroline Kennedy’s ducks in the fountain on the South Lawn with the White House in the background. Caroline, who was only five-years-old at the time, had raised the yellow-beaked white ducks from baby ducklings. After several months of trying to keep the Kennedy’s terrier, Charlie, from eating her fine-feathered friends, they were transported to safer grounds in Rock Creek Park located in northwest D.C. Before the ducks’ transfer, the President’s personal photographer, Cecil Stoughton, snapped the memorable picture of the ducks in the fountain.

First official White House Christmas cards from President Kennedy in 1961

First official White House Christmas cards from President Kennedy in 1961

For the President’s official White House Christmas cards, Hallmark produced a design similar to the ones from Eisenhower’s presidency. The 1961 White House Christmas cards featured a wide green silk screen ban on a smooth white stock accompanied by the official Presidential Seal and the sentiment “Season’s Greetings 1961” engraved in gold. The imprint read: “The President and Mrs. Kennedy wish you a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Kennedy ordered 800 official Christmas cards from Hallmark. Additionally, since the President was sending Christmas cards to leaders around the world, he ordered 100 cards with a general New Year’s imprint that did not make any mention of Christmas.

Caroline Kennedy's attention as she inspects it before a party for White House employees given by her parents, December 1961

In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. She decorated a tree placed in the oval Blue Room with ornamental toys, birds and angels modeled after Petr Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” ballet. Mrs. Kennedy reused these ornaments in 1962 for her childrens’ theme tree. Set up in the North Entrance, this festive tree also featured brightly wrapped packages, candy canes, gingerbread cookies and straw ornaments made by disabled or senior citizen craftspeople throughout the United States.

2004 American President Collection John F. Kennedy Ornament

2004 American President Collection John F. Kennedy Ornament

On December 20, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson lit the 75-foot Washington state Douglas fir, initiating the first Pageant of Peace during the Kennedy administration. The President could not be present at the ceremony because the Kennedy patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy, suffered a stroke and the First Family flew down to Palm Beach, Florida to be with him. Johnson delivered the official Christmas message to the American people. He spoke of the nation’s dedication to seeking world peace, comparing that dedication to Christ’s quest for unity.

The President and Mrs. Kennedy at the White House Staff Christmas reception, 12 December 1962.

President Kennedy had almost 2,000 official White House Christmas cards produced by Hallmark. Edward Lehman, an advertising illustrator, was commissioned to sketch some renderings of the rooms for the home furnishings section of the Philadelphia Bulletin. The First Lady took a particular liking to Lehman as well as his artistry, and at his request, he was invited back to the White House to paint a 20 x 30-inch watercolor of the Red Room for the Kennedys. The President and First Lady were so impressed with Lehman’s watercolor that they had it reproduced for their 1962 Christmas gifts to their White House staff.

The official presidential Christmas cards from 1962

The official presidential Christmas cards from 1962

The official White House Christmas cards were a bit different than ones from designs of recent years past. Instead of a formal design featuring a “Season’s Greetings” sentiment and the Presidential Seal, the President’s official Christmas cards from 1962 featured a photograph taken by Cecil Stoughton of a snow-covered White House lawn. With the executive mansion in the background, the foreground depicted Mrs. Kennedy sitting with John Jr. in a one-horse open sleigh being led by Caroline’s pony, Macaroni.

John F. Kennedy and Jacquelyn Kennedy celebrate the season around the Christmas tree with their children Caroline and John Jr., the former First Lady's sister Lee Radziwill, her husband Prince Stanislaus Radziwill and their children Anthony and Ann Christine and two of their furry friends in 1962

John F. Kennedy and Jacquelyn Kennedy celebrate the season around the Christmas tree with their children Caroline and John Jr., the former First Lady's sister Lee Radziwill, her husband Prince Stanislaus Radziwill and their children Anthony and Ann Christine and two of their furry friends in 1962. Photo taken at Kennedy seniors' residence in Palm Beach

Before his untimely death, the President and First Lady decided upon a Christmas gift to give to their executive staff members, which Mrs. Kennedy also proceeded in bestowing. The gifts were mounted reproductions of the President’s favorite William Henry Bartlett engraving, The President’s House, From Washington, which hung in his office. Each reproduction was signed by the President and First Lady: “With deepest appreciation, John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy.”

The 71-foot Norway red spruce from West Virginia was lit on December 22, marking the end of the 30-day mourning period after the President’s assassination.

President Lyndon Johnson and First Lady Claudia (Lady Bird) 1963-1969

The Lyndon B. Johnson Administration began during a time of great uncertainty. In November 1963, the assassination of President Kennedy had stunned America. New First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson certainly felt a desire to help the nation heal. She chose comforting and nostalgic holiday decor during her White House years.

President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, and Yuki, the White House dog

President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, and Yuki, the White House dog

After President John F. Kennedy’s assassination a month of mourning was declared. But on the evening of Dec. 22, Johnson lit the National Christmas Tree behind the White House, and the next morning the black mourning crepe that had been draped over White House doorways and chandeliers was replaced with holly, wreaths and mistletoe. Lady Bird Johnson later wrote, “I walked the well-lit hall for the first time with the sense that life was going to go on, that we as a country were going to begin again.”

Her 1965 and 1966 Blue Room Christmas trees were decorated in an early American theme. They featured thousands of small traditional ornaments, including nuts, fruit, popcorn, dried seedpods, gingerbread cookies and wood roses from Hawaii. A paper mache angel graced the tops of the trees. For the 1967 holiday season, Mrs. Johnson added silver balls, silver stars and round mirrors to the previous years’ ornaments.

Lynda Bird Johnson Robb in front of White House Christmas tree with infant daughter.

Lynda Bird Johnson Robb in front of White House Christmas tree with infant daughter.

Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson spent four of their six presidential Christmases in Texas rather than Washington. Each year it seemed President Johnson faced a different crisis, so he liked to return home to his beloved ranch on the banks of the Pedernalas for Christmas to relax and renew his spirit. However, the holiday season in Washington begins long before December 25th and the Johnsons loved to entertain, so they didn’t miss out on Christmas in the White House. Whenever dignitaries were lucky enough to visit the the President and First Lady during the holidays, they were entertained with traditional elegance using a Christmas theme, including a decorated tree such as this one, patterned after a gingerbread theme once used by Lady Bird Johnson.

When President Johnson was in office the theme for that year was An American Past.

When President Johnson was in office the theme for that year was An American Past.

The Christmas of 1967 was special for the Johnsons because their daughter, Lynda, was married to Charles Robb in the White House on December 9th with 650 guests in attendance. The celebrating continued during Christmas week and the First Lady decided, over her husband’s objections, that they would spend that Christmas in Washington, the first time in seven years.

The Johnson’s final Christmas in the White House in 1968 was a time of reflection for them and the opportunity to say goodbye to their friends. On December 23rd, President Johnson sent Christmas greetings to the American troops in Southeast Asia, which included his two sons-in-law. In Drew Pearson’s syndicated column, he noted that Christmas at the White House for the Johnson’s was “not as gay this year as last.”

1967 Presidential Christmas cards from the Johnsons depicting the White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room

1967 Presidential Christmas cards from the Johnsons depicting the White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room

Six Christmases passed while the Johnsons lived in the White House. While the President found himself spending ever more of his energies on a war in Vietnam that would not go away, the First Lady committed herself to the beautification of America and the planting of trees. Except for their unplanned first Christmas in the Executive Mansion, all the cards and gift prints of later years were to feature trees.

These included trees planted by Presidents, trees surrounding the South Portico, trees on the South Lawn as viewed from the South Portico, and the Blue Room Christmas tree. The artist in each case was American Greetings watercolor painter Robert Laessig, with whom the Johnsons were to have a long, productive relationship. The gift prints were reproduced on textured paper 14 by 18 inches in size; to accompany each print, the First Lady enclosed a personal message penned on parchment.

On the bitter cold evening of December 16, President Johnson lit his last National Community Christmas Tree. At the touch of a button, the 74-foot Engelmann spruce from Utah lit up with 4,000 blue and green lights. During his last two years as President, Johnson’s credibility began to slip. With the Vietnam War still going strong and with no end in sight, Americans began to question their President’s motives. And with the Civil Rights movement on the rise, urban riots broke out across the nation. In his final Christmas greeting to the American people, Johnson prayed for peace in Southeast Asia and reconciliation on domestic soil. In his departing words he said, “We cannot say that we have triumphed in this endeavor. But we have begun at long last.”

President Richard Nixon and First Lady Patricia 1969-1974

After serving as Eisenhower’s veep and then losing the election of 1960 to John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon retreated from executive-level politics until 1967, when he decided to again run for President in the election of 1968. Appealing to the “Silent Majority” of socially conservative Americans as well as promising peace in Southeast Asia, Nixon beat out Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace to become the 37th President of the United States.

For President Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon’s first Christmas in the White House in 1969, they began a tradition of gifting Presidential portraits to their staff members. That year they gave reproductions of Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of George Washington (the same portrait that Eisenhower used for inspiration to paint his 1954 Christmas gift print).

In 1969 Mrs. Nixon had the White House tree decorated in beautiful velvet and satin balls that represented the 50 States.

In 1969 Mrs. Nixon had the White House tree decorated in beautiful velvet and satin balls that represented the 50 States.

The 1969 “American Flower Tree” stood in the North Entrance. For its decoration, First Lady Patricia Nixon arranged for disabled workers in Florida to make velvet and satin balls featuring each state’s flower. For the 1970 Blue Room tree, she added 53 “Monroe” fans made by disabled workers in New York. Gold foil angels joined the trimmings in 1971. Mrs. Nixon took her 1972 Christmas theme from two White House collection paintings by Severin Roesen: Still Life with Fruit and Nature’s Bounty. The tree featured 3,000 pastel satin finish balls, the state flower balls and 150 gold Federal stars. A 1973 “gold” theme tree honored James Monroe, who bought gilded tableware for the White House in 1817. Gold bead strings and balls enhanced its natural beauty.

1971 White House Christmas Cards from the Nixons featuring a painting done by N.C. Wyeth in 1930

1971 White House Christmas Cards from the Nixons featuring a painting done by N.C. Wyeth in 1930

Christmas celebrations during the following years were not much better. In 1969, the train bringing the National Tree from South Dakota to Washington was twice derailed and a surprise storm on December 6th that year blew the tree down! In 1972, the Pageant of Peace was embroiled in legal controversy over the use of religious symbols. The nativity scene that had always been part of the pageant was no longer allowed. And in 1973, an air of gloom hung over the White House as the Watergate investigation continued.

At Christmas, the First Lady delighted in opening the White House for candlelight tours as well as nationally televised specials. It gave her and the President great pleasure to share with the nation at Christmas the rare and authentic acquisitions for the State Rooms. An admirer of his great predecessors, the President surprised no one when it came to holiday cards and gift prints. Each card was a rendition of the White House, which, for the last three Christmases, was an historical view by a well-known artist. Each gift print, invariably, was the portrait of a great President rendered by a celebrated portrait painter.

President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat with Frosty

President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat with Frosty

In celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Community Christmas Tree-lighting ceremony, President Nixon lit the tree on December 14 with the help of a Boy Scout and a Girl Scout. For the first time since 1954, a live tree was planted on the Ellipse. The 42-foot Colorado blue spruce from Pennsylvania was donated by the National Arborist Association. With a major energy crisis taking place, the White House reduced the energy consumption of lighting the tree by almost 82%. Instead of using thousands of lights, the tree was decorated primarily with garlands and balls.

In his Christmas greeting to the American people, President Nixon talked about the impending energy crisis. He said, “This year we will drive a little slower. This year the thermostats will be a little lower. This year every American perhaps will sacrifice a little, but no one will suffer.” Unfortunately for Nixon, he wouldn’t stay President for much longer to make sure no one would suffer. Due to the Watergate scandal, which resulted in Nixon’s loss of political support and near certainty of impeachment, he resigned on the evening of August 8, 1974.

President Richard Nixon Tapes: “Merry Christmas, Operator

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President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty 1974-1977

Immediately following Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States. He nominated former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill his vacated position as Vice President, and Rockefeller was officially confirmed several months later. Perhaps one of Ford’s most controversial decisions – one that he made only weeks after taking the Presidential Oath of Office – was pardoning Nixon for all the crimes he may have committed during his presidency. Nixon’s pardon might have been the best Christmas present he ever received.

In 1976, First Lady Betty Ford looks over decorations and presents

In 1976, First Lady Betty Ford looks over decorations and presents

Handmade crafts set the theme for First Lady Betty Ford’s 1974 Blue Room tree. Emphasizing thrift and recycling, Mrs. Ford used ornaments made by Appalachian women and senior citizen groups. Swags lined with patchwork encircled the tree. She kept this quaint feel in 1975 for her “old-fashioned children’s Christmas” theme. Experts from Colonial Williamsburg adapted paper snowflakes, acorns, dried fruits, pine cones, vegetables, straw, cookies and yarn into ornaments. In 1976, Mrs. Ford expressed the “love that is the spirit of Christmas” by trimming a Blue Room tree in a variety of entirely natural ornaments made by members of the Garden Club of America.

President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty's 1974 Blue Room tree.

President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty's 1974 Blue Room tree.

In the 1970’s, the old-fashioned Christmas–turkey dinner, pumpkin pie, popcorn strings, and patchwork ornaments–was at odds with changes taking place in America. The topic of Christmas at the White House didn’t even get discussed until November because the Fords didn’t take office until late summer. Both the Kennedys and the Johnsons took their Christmas ornaments with them when they left the White House and the Nixon ornaments were not Mrs. Ford’s style. She preferred homemade or sentimental ornaments. Mrs. Ford’s idea for a Christmas tree was that it should be warm and personal. In 1974, she asked specific groups to make the tree ornaments using a patchwork theme. The homemade patchwork tree emphasized thrift and simplicity in this time of recession. Mrs. Ford encouraged Americans everywhere to make their ornaments in order to save money. She even offered a White House pamphlet on how to make patchwork Christmas tree ornaments.

Gerald and Betty Ford brought to the Executive Mansion an informality that reflected their unique style and personality. The ambiance of the Ford White House was warm and folksy, simple and low-key. Mrs. Ford described it as kind of “down-home-like.” Especially at Christmas, the First Lady was able to define her independence and leave the distinctive mark of an old-fashioned Christmas on the White House, a tradition the Ford family had always enjoyed.

Final White House Christmas cards sent by President and Mrs. Ford in 1976

Final White House Christmas cards sent by President and Mrs. Ford in 1976

The President and Mrs. Ford liked the works of George Henry Durrie, so it was no surprise that they selected another one of his paintings for the design of their third and final White House Christmas cards. The painting, entitled Going to Church, depicted a white New England church with a pointed steeple in a bucolic setting with parishioners making their way to the door. The Fords had Hallmark produce 25,000 Presidential Christmas cards, each card bounded with a blue foil border.

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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