History Stories

Christmas at the first residence has evolved from an understated, intimate affair in 1800 to an all-out media event.

Celebrating Christmas in the White House has been a tradition since 1800. President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams were the first to throw a Christmas party in the president’s official residence, but it was not as we know it today. These were intimate gatherings with family and close officials, not decorations designed for the media spotlight.

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. President Benjamin Harrison stepped up the tradition when he brought a tree inside the White House in 1889 and had it lit with candles.

Throughout the 19th century Christmas trees were often only put up if there were families around, specifically young children or grandchildren, to get into the Christmas spirit. Theodore Roosevelt, a well-known conservationist, was against the idea of cutting down a tree for the holidays, although his 8-year-old son once got a tree and had it "rigged up" inside a large closet in the White House, according to a letter that Roosevelt wrote on December 26, 1902.

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

Jackie Kennedy began the tradition of installing themed Christmas trees in the White House's iconic Blue Room in 1961. That year, she picked characters from the Nutcracker Suite ballet to adorn her tree. Five years later, it was established that the National Christmas Tree Association would provide Christmas trees to U.S. Presidents and their families.

In 2018, White House Christmas decor took on a red theme as Melania Trump chose to feature a series of crimson trees. While some criticized the color theme, the first lady countered, “I think they look fantastic. ...In real life, they look even more beautiful.”

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