On this day in 1923, President Calvin Coolidge touches a button and lights up the first national Christmas tree to grace the White House grounds.
Not only was this the first White House “community” Christmas tree, but it was the first to be decorated with electric lights–a strand of 2,500 red, white and green bulbs. The balsam fir came from Coolidge’s home state of Vermont and stood 48 feet tall. Several musical groups performed at the tree-lighting ceremony, including the Epiphany Church choir and the U.S. Marine Band. Later that evening, President Coolidge and first lady Grace were treated to carols sung by members of Washington D.C.’s First Congregational Church.
According to the White House Historical Association, President Benjamin Harrison was the first president to set up an indoor Christmas tree for his family and visitors to enjoy in 1889. It was decorated with ornaments and candles. In 1929, first lady Lou Henry Hoover oversaw what would become an annual tradition of decorating the indoor White House tree. Since then, each first lady’s duties have included the trimming of the official White House tree.
Coolidge’s “inauguration” of the first outdoor national Christmas tree initiated a tradition that has been repeated with every administration. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan began another custom by authorizing the first official White House ornament, copies of which were made available for purchase.