Christmas has been celebrated in the White House since the 1800’s. The first president to live in the White House, John Adams (our nation’s 2nd President) and his wife Abigail Adams were the first to throw a Christmas party in the White House. They threw it for their four-year-old granddaughter, Susanna Boylston Adams. However, it was nowhere near the type of celebration the White House sees today as it was a gathering for close government officials and their families, with no decorations.However, as time has gone on, Christmas celebrations at the White House get grander and grander with each presidency.
Christmas trees in the White House would not appear until the mid-19th century when 14th president Franklin Pierce decorated an evergreen on the White House lawn in 1853. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison stepped up the tradition when he brought a tree inside the White House, placed it upstairs in the Second Floor Oval Room (then used as a family parlor and library) and decorated with candles for the Harrison grandchildren.
Documentation suggests the first electric lights on a family tree were used in 1894 during the presidency of Grover Cleveland (electricity was installed in the White House in 1891). The Taft children—Robert, Helen, and Charlie—placed the first tree in the Blue Room on the State Floor in 1912. President William Howard Taft and First Lady Helen Taft were away on a trip to Panama, so the Christmas tree was a surprise for the seven young Laughlin and Herron cousins, who with their parents were guests at the White House.
In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge hosted the first National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. This tradition has persisted every year since, although in 1963 the ceremony was delayed several days due to a 30-day period of mourning following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Although previous presidential administrations displayed Christmas trees indoors throughout the State Floor, it was First Lady Mamie Eisenhower who consistently placed a tree in the Blue Room. 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 record for the number of trees in the White House was held for many years by the Dwight Eisenhower administration when 26 trees filled the Executive Mansion in 1959. That number has since been topped on a number of occasions: the Bushes’ “Nutcracker Ballet” theme (47 trees) in 1990; the Clintons’ “Twas the Night Before Christmas” theme (32 trees) in 1995; the Bushes’ “Home for the Holidays” theme (49 trees) in 2001; the Obamas’ “A Timeless Tradition” theme (62 trees) in 2015; and the Trumps’ “American Treasures” theme (41 trees and more than 40 topiary trees in the East Colonnade) in 2018.
Christmas is a holiday that unites the United States of America and the White House has a long history of upholding that tradition. This year as we go into the final week of Christmas preparation with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, remember that the spirit of Christmas is with us all as Americans this year! Merry Christmas from Liberty Stitching Company!
Dreaming of a White (House) Christmas, https://www.history.com/news/white-house-christmas-tree-decorations-photos, retrieved December 19, 2022.
White House Christmas Traditions, https://www.whitehousehistory.org/press-room/press-backgrounders/white-house-christmas-traditions, retrieved December 19, 2022.