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  • Nineteenth century White House Christmas celebrations were not grand state affairs. Instead, most first families of this era decorated the building with simple wreaths, garlands, and ornaments, and quietly celebrated the holiday. But there were some exceptions.
  • The first White House Christmas party was held in December 1800. President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams gave it for their four-year-old granddaughter Susanna Boylston Adams, who was living with them. They invited government officials and their children to the party.
  • According to family tradition, President Andrew Jackson's 1835 "frolic" for the children of his household was one of the most elaborate parties ever held at the White House. It included games, dancing and a grand dinner, and ended with an indoor "snowball fight" using specially made cotton balls.
  • President Benjamin Harrison placed the first Christmas tree in the White House in the Second Floor Oval Room (then used as a family parlor and library) in 1889. It was decorated with candles, toys, and other ornaments designed to impress the Harrison grandchildren.
  • Not all White House families after the Harrisons set up interior Christmas trees. The tradition depended on the presence of young children or grandchildren, and on whether the first families were in residence during the holiday.

President Grover Cleveland’s family tree, placed in the Second Floor Oval Room in 1894, was decorated with red, white and blue electric light bulbs, delighting his young daughters.

The White House Historical Association
  • Electricity was installed in the White House in 1891. Three years later during the presidency of Grover Cleveland, electric lights first appeared on a White House Christmas tree.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt and First Lady Edith Roosevelt hosted a "carnival" during the 1903 Christmas season for 500 children. The event included dinner, dancing, musical entertainment, souvenirs, and a special treat: ice cream formed in the shape of Santa Claus. According to popular belief, President Roosevelt, an avowed conservationist, did not approve of cutting trees for Christmas decorations. However, his son Archie defied the ban and smuggled in a small tree that he decorated and hid in a closet in the upstairs sewing room.
  • President William H. Taft’s children placed what is believed to be the first Christmas tree in the Blue Room in 1912. The president and first lady were away that year on a trip to Panama, so their children installed the tree as a surprise for Mrs. Taft’s brother and sister, John W. Herron and Lucy Laughlin, and their seven young children, who were guests at the White House.
  • Maitre d' and butler Alonzo Fields recalled President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cherished Christmas family tradition in his memoir, My 21 Years in the White House (1960): “They always braved the hazards of fire by having a Christmas tree lighted with candles in the East Hall. The family tradition included reading of Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol by the president. The gathering of the family with the President and Mrs. Roosevelt, the president's mother, the children and grandchildren made a comely family group of four generations.”
  • First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room in 1961. That year the tree was decorated with ornamental toys, birds, angels and characters from the "Nutcracker Suite" ballet.
  • The tradition of installing the official tree in the Blue Room was interrupted twice. In 1962, the tree was displayed in the Entrance Hall because of renovation work. In 1969, First Lady Patricia Nixon again chose the Entrance Hall for the American Flowers Tree, which was decorated with velvet and satin balls made by disabled workers in Florida and featuring each state’s official flower.

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 Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" ballet.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
  • The record for the number of trees in the White House was held for many years by the Eisenhower administration when 26 trees filled every floor of the house. That mark has been eclipsed on several occasions, including the Clinton administration's 36 trees in the 1997 theme of "Santa's Workshop," and the 2008 White House Christmas decorations of the Bush administration that included 27 trees as part of a theme of "A Red, White and Blue Christmas." Most recently in 2018, the Trump administration had 41 Christmas trees and more than 40 topiary trees in the East Colonnade.
  • First Lady Hillary Clinton showcased the talents of America's artistic communities during her eight holiday seasons at the White House. First Lady Laura Bush varied the decorations, including the "All Creatures Grand and Small" theme of 2002 highlighting her love of animals and the importance of pets to White House history, and the patriotic 2008 theme inspired by letters from Americans after September 11th advocating a red, white and blue Christmas. First Lady Michelle Obama announced the 2010 White House Christmas theme of "Simple Gifts," explaining, "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."
  • The National Christmas Tree Association has held a national competition since 1966 for the official White House Blue Room tree. To qualify, growers must first win their state or regional competitions. Being named National Grand Champion is a major achievement.

White House Blue Room Christmas Trees by State of Origin Since 1961

  • North Carolina: 13
  • Pennsylvania: 11
  • Wisconsin: 8
  • Washington: 7
  • West Virginia: 4
  • Ohio: 3
  • Indiana: 2
  • Michigan: 2
  • New York: 2
  • Oregon: 2
  • Massachusetts: 1
  • Missouri: 1
  • Vermont: 1
  • Anonymously Donated from New England: 1
  • Unknown: 1

Types of Blue Room Christmas Trees by Number of Occurrences Since 1961

  • Firs: 51
  • Spruces: 7
  • Pines: 1
  • President Calvin Coolidge was the first chief executive to preside over the National Christmas tree lighting ceremony, doing so on the Ellipse in 1923. Today, the Christmas Pageant of Peace, held there annually since 1954, includes the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. This interdenominational celebration features the appearance of the first family for the lighting, as well as musical and dance performances.

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