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The Christmas tree!
I thought that I might find out when and how the White House celebrated Christmas.
A Christmas tree in every house is a relatively modern custom. Checking on what the Lincoln family did to celebrate Christmas, apparently they had neither, decorations or a tree, but they probably visited a church near the White House. Of course the Civil War was raging during the Lincoln presidency.
But, Lincoln probably received the best Christmas present of all times at his final Christmas, and that was a telegram from General William Tecumseh Sherman signaling that the end of the Civil War was near. Sherman’s telegram said: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”
Lincoln never really sent out a Christmas message for the simple reason that Christmas did not become a national holiday until 1870.
On December 25, the Lincoln’s hosted a Christmas reception for the cabinet. Tad Lincoln, the president’s young son who had already helped inspire the tradition of a Presidential turkey pardon, invited several newsboys, who worked outdoors in the chilly Washington winter, to the Christmas dinner. The unexpected guests were a surprise to the White House cook, but the president welcomed them and allowed them to stay for dinner.
The first White House Christmas tree decorated with candles and toys was placed in the second floor oval room, then, used as a library and family parlor, in 1889, for President Benjamin Harrison and his family.
Three years after electricity was introduced to the White House in 1891, the first electric lights on a family tree delighted the young daughters of President Grover Cleveland.
The first President to preside over a public celebration of Christmas was Calvin Coolidge in 1923, at the lighting of the national Christmas tree.
In 1961, First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. She chose a “Nutcracker Suite” theme, and featured ornamental toys after Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet.
First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson’s Blue room Christmas trees were decorated with an early American theme in 1965 and 1966.
First Lady Patricia Nixon’s 1969 American Flower Tree stood in the North Entrance and disabled workers in Florida made velvet and satin balls representing the fifty states.
First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s 1977 Blue room tree featured painted milkweed pods, nut pods, foil, and eggshell ornaments made by members of the National Association for Retarded.
Last year, First Lady Melania Trump welcomed the 18 and half foot Frazer Fir from West Virginia that arrived a the White House in a horse drawn Carriage as a Military band played a festive medley of Christmas music.
This year, the Biden White House Christmas décor features red and white striped knit stockings with green heels dangling brightly from a hearth with family photos, hand written thank you notes and an arch of presents in large bright red boxes placed at the east entrance of the White House.
Thanks for reading! ~Carlton
Information for this piece came from the Smithsonian, White House Historical Association, Robert Knudsen, the White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library