December 2019

December 1, 2019

In 2018, President Trump and the First Family celebrated their second Christmas in the White House. That year’s theme, “American Treasures,” was chosen by First Lady Melania Trump to honor the unique heritage of our Nation. Throughout that Christmas season, the White House shined with the spirit of patriotism, showcasing many splendors found across the United States. In the Grand Foyer and Cross Hall, more than 14,000 red ornaments adorned 29 trees as a symbol of valor and bravery.

December 2, 2019

Did you know that volunteers are key to the Christmas season at the White House? Each year, the “People’s House” opens to the public for tours of the decorations during the month of December—all thanks to the help of volunteers from across the country!

In 2017, more than 150 volunteers from 29 states were selected to help tie ribbons, set up lights, hang ornaments, and much more!

Be sure to apply next year at whitehouse.gov/Christmas, but mark your calendars early: The application process typically begins in September! You can apply either to decorate the White House during the week of Thanksgiving or to perform as a musician during the Holiday Open Houses throughout December.

December 3, 2019

Both in 2017 and 2018, President Trump and the First Lady participated in NORAD’s (the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s) Santa Tracker, a Christmas Eve tradition dating back more than 60 years. Both the President and First Lady took calls from young children, who dialed in to learn where Santa was at that moment in his journey around the world!

This photograph shows President Trump and the First Lady answering phone calls in the State Dining Room of the White House in 2018.

December 4, 2019

In 2002, despite the White House still being closed to visitors following the attacks of September 11, Americans got a peek at the decorations through a camera strapped to the Bush family’s beloved Scottish terrier, Barney. In a video titled “Happy Holidays from Barney and Spotty, 2002,” Barney ran excitedly through the halls of the White House, taking in the Christmas season. The video was an instant hit.

This photograph shows the Bushes’ Scottish terrier, Barney, inspecting presents under the tree.

December 5, 2019

In November of 1923, First Lady Grace Coolidge gave permission for D.C. Public Schools to place a Christmas tree on the Ellipse. The organizers would name this tree the “National Christmas Tree.” That Christmas Eve, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse to light the tree, becoming the first chief executive to preside over the event. The 1923 tree was a 48-foot Balsam fir with 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white, and green colors.

Now a beloved American tradition celebrating its 97th year, the 2019 National Christmas Tree Lighting takes place tonight on the Ellipse at President’s Park. Each day following the ceremony, the National Christmas Tree will be lit from approximately 4:30 p.m. to midnight as part of the “America Celebrates” display at President’s Park. It’s free to visit and open to the public, so come check it out!

Thank you to both the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation for putting on this terrific event each year!

December 6, 2019

During the Nixon Administration, a new White House tradition was born! Beginning in 1969, during their first Christmas in the White House, First Lady Pat Nixon worked with Pastry Chef Hans Raffert to create the first renditions of the now famous White House gingerbread house! Chef Raffert designed a two-foot-tall, A-frame house that was held together with 6 pounds of icing, 5 pounds of cookies, 1 pound of candy, and 12 candy canes. The final product was completely edible and weighed 40 pounds!

First Lady Pat Nixon and her daughter, Julie Nixon, are seen here in December of 1971, viewing one of the original A-frame gingerbread houses.

December 7, 2019

Just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, some 20,000 Americans gathered on the South Lawn to hear Christmas addresses from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, standing together on the South Portico. The world listened in by radio as President Roosevelt called the Nation to courage and good cheer, saying “Our strongest weapon in this war is that conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of man which Christmas Day signifies more than any other day or any other symbol.”

December 8, 2019

President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan spent 8 Christmases at the White House! For their first Christmas at the White House, in 1981, Mrs. Reagan decorated the official Blue Room tree with ornaments lent by the Museum of American Folk Art.

Seen here, is President Reagan and the First Lady in front of their Christmas tree in the Private Residence in 1981.

December 9, 2019

During the holiday season, the White House can be home to more than 30 Christmas trees! While the most well-known is the Official Christmas Tree in the Blue Room, trees can also be found in the Red Room, Green Room, and Grand Foyer.

In 1975, First Lady Betty Ford and her daughter, Susan, made their own Christmas ornaments for a tree in the White House Solarium!

December 10, 2019

While it is believed that President William H. Taft’s children were the first to place a Christmas tree in the Blue Room in 1912, it was First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy that started a now-annual tradition in 1961—selecting a theme for the Official White House Christmas Tree!

That year, the Official White House Tree in the Blue Room was decorated with ornamental toys, birds, angels, and characters from the Nutcracker ballet.

December 11, 2019

Since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association has held a national competition for the official White House Blue Room tree. In order to qualify, tree growers must first win their state or regional competitions.

This year’s tree was presented by Mr. Larry Snyder, the winner of the 2019 National Christmas Tree Contest, to First Lady Melania Trump on November 25. The tree arrived at the North Portico in a horse-drawn carriage and is a Douglas Fir from Mahantongo Valley Farms in Pennsylvania.

Over the years, the majority of trees have come from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They have been mostly Fir trees, a few Spruces, and one Pine tree.

December 12, 2019

Since 1975, one decoration in the Red Room has stayed the same over the years—the Red Room Cranberry Tree!

The Cranberry Tree takes four days of patient care and around 200 cranberries to create. Two trees are always made since cranberries are known to soften over time at room temperature.

Seen here is Wendy Elsasser, White House Assistant Chief Florist under George W. Bush, as she carefully checks each cranberry of the Red Room Cranberry Tree.

December 13, 2019

President Franklin D. Roosevelt spent ten consecutive Christmases at the White House during the 12 years he served as President. The Roosevelts kept many Christmas traditions, including taking down their stockings and opening them in the President’s bedchamber, attending Christmas Day services, and exchanging presents as a family in the afternoon.

December 14, 2019

In 1959, under the Dwight D. Eisenhower Administration, a long standing record for trees inside the White House was set—26 trees throughout the White House!

That record was surpassed in 1997 when the Clinton Administration installed 36 trees, in 2008 under the Bush Administration with 27 trees installed, and in 2018 when First Lady Melania Trump had 41 Christmas trees and more than 40 topiary trees along the East Colonnade.

This year, Mrs. Trump broke the record again—installing 58 Christmas trees throughout the White House!

December 15, 2019

President Theodore Roosevelt—a conservationist—banned Christmas trees from the White House. According to The Sun newspaper in 1902, the Roosevelt family would “exchange Christmas gifts in the library, but there will be no Christmas tree at the White House.”
 
8-year-old Archibald Roosevelt had a plan of his own, though. With the help of White House staff, he smuggled a tree inside the White House, decorated it, and then hid it inside a closet.
 
President Roosevelt wrote a letter to a friend afterwards, stating it “was a surprise for me, also for their good mother, for Archie had a little Christmas tree of his own which he had rigged up with the help of one of the carpenters in a big closet; and we all had to look at the tree and each of us got a present off of it. There was also one present each for Jack the dog, Tom Quartz the kitten, and Algonquin the pony, whom Archie would no more think of neglecting than I would neglect his brothers and sisters. Then all the children came into our bed and there they opened their stockings.”

December 16, 2019

The position of White House Executive Pastry Chef didn’t exist until 1979. From fruitcakes, to cookies, to gingerbread houses, the holiday season ensures a busy time for the White House chefs!

Over the years chefs and pastry chefs have baked, constructed, and decorated a gingerbread house for the First Family, the American people, and White House visitors. The styles of gingerbread houses have changed over the years, but one thing is for sure—this is a beloved annual tradition!

This photograph shows then-White House Assistant Pastry Chef (and current White House Pastry Chef!) Susie Morrison constructing the 2010 White House gingerbread house in the China Room of the White House. This house weighed 350 pounds and was made from a foundation of gingerbread and covered with white chocolate!

December 17, 2019

In 1891, electricity was installed in the White House for the first time. For Christmas 1894, President Grover Cleveland had the first Christmas tree with lights on it! The tree was placed in the Oval Room on the Second Floor of the Residence and was decorated with red, white, and blue electric light bulbs.

December 18, 2019

Many Presidents and First Families have spent some of their Christmas holidays at Camp David, but former President George W. Bush may hold the record!

Bush “43” celebrated the occasion there a dozen times—eight as President, and four as a younger man when his father, George H. W. Bush, served as Commander in Chief from 1989 to 1993. Other Presidents to spend Christmastime at Camp David include Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton.

Seen here is President George H. W. Bush reading Christmas stories to his grandchildren at Camp David on December 24, 1991.

December 19, 2019

On December 22, 1980, White House staffers, military officers, and Secret Service agents bundled up and set up lawn chairs on a 34-degree day to watch Olympic gold medalist figure skater Peggy Fleming perform on a tiny, 20′-30′ portable ice rink set up on the South Lawn!

“You have performed like true Olympians,” President Jimmy Carter told his staff. “To show you, we have an Olympian here.” The Washington Post reported that “the chilled audience sat so quietly that only the scrape of the blade was heard.”

First Lady Rosalyn Carter’s Christmas party on the South Lawn included hot chocolate booths, a petting zoo with live reindeer, snowmen dressed as various popular personalities, and a fake snow machine!

December 20, 2019

In 2014, the Obama Administration invited 3D printing enthusiasts to submit their designs for the first ever 3D-printed ornaments to deck the halls of the White House.

Five winning ornaments were selected for display, including delicately interlocked snowflakes, a rendering of the Reading Room in the Library of Congress, a snowy White House scene, and more!

December 21, 2019

Shortly before Christmas 1945, President Harry Truman asked his maître d’hôtel, Alonzo Fields, to find a family in the city who needed a Christmas meal. President Truman sent Fields with cash from his own wallet “to buy each child in the family a present. If this isn’t enough, let me know.”

Fields went to the director of the Southeast Settlement House, who located a family whose father had recently been killed, leaving their mother with nine young children. Fields realized that the impoverished family did not even have a cooking stove, so he returned to the White House and suggested to President Truman that the meal be cooked in the White House kitchen instead.

The President agreed, and these charitable meals, delivered in private cars, became a Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition under President Truman, who insisted that Fields and other staffers never tell anyone about them.

Seen here are members of the Truman family enjoying Christmas dinner on December 25, 1947, in the Family Dining Room on the State Floor.

December 22, 2019

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter became the first president to recognize Hanukkah, lighting the National Menorah in a ceremony in Lafayette Park!

President Bill Clinton hosted the first menorah lighting ceremony in the White House in 1993, and in 2001, President George W. Bush began the annual tradition of an official White House Hanukkah party.

December 23, 2019

The legendary White House gingerbread house has taken various forms over the years, from simple A-frame houses, to monuments and castles, to childhood homes of the First Family, to detailed White House replicas made from custom-carved molds. In 2001, Executive Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier created a gingerbread replica of the White House as it would have looked during John Adam’s presidency in 1800.

This year’s gingerbread house features the South Portico of the White House, surrounded by national landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, Space Needle, Mount Rushmore, the Alamo, Gateway Arch, Liberty Bell, and the Statue of Liberty. It is comprised of of 200 pounds of gingerbread, 125 pounds of pastillage dough, 35 pounds of chocolate, and 25 pounds of royal icing. Fun fact: Three types of pasta (angel hair, spaghetti, and linguini) were used to make the railings!

December 24, 2019

Over 90 years ago, President Calvin Coolidge began the tradition of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse as he lit a 48-foot Balsam fir decorated with 2,500 red, white, and green electric bulbs on Christmas Eve, 1923.

In 1989, First Lady Barbara Bush brought her granddaughter, Marshall, to place the star atop the National Christmas Tree. She began this tradition as Second Lady, when George H.W. Bush served as Vice President to Ronald Reagan, and, as First Lady, continued the tradition of placing a star on top of the tree from a hydraulic lift, bringing grandchildren along to lend a hand.