December 2020

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

December 1, 2020

This year, the White House Christmas decorations honor the theme “America the Beautiful,” paying tribute to the majesty of our great country! The official White House Christmas tree is decorated by students from across the nation, with ornaments that artistically depict the people, places, and things that capture the spirit of their home states. In the Red Room, handmade ornaments honor the everyday heroes who keep our communities safe—first responders, frontline medical workers, and others. More than 3,200 strands of lights and over 17,000 bows were tied as part of this year’s display!

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

December 2, 2020

Each year, volunteers from across America come to the White House to help put up Christmas decorations. In 2017, for example, over 150 volunteers from 29 states put in more than 1,600 hours decorating the White House!

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

December 3, 2020

The National Christmas Tree will be illuminated this evening, remaining lit every night for the rest of December! This ceremony is a holiday tradition dating back to 1923 when President Calvin Coolidge lit the first National Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve.

Guests can view the tree in President’s Park near the White House, along with 56 other trees representing each U.S. state, territory, and the District of Columbia. Students across the nation designed ornaments that will be displayed on the trees. For more information, visit thenationaltree.org!

Photo Credit: Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum

December 4, 2020

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

Fields located a family who had fallen on hard times—but realized they 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.

Photo Credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

December 5, 2020

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas Tree in 1961, with the inaugural theme inspired by the “Nutcracker Suite” ballet. Her Christmas tree ornaments featured toys, birds, angels, and other characters, crafted by volunteers with disabilities and senior citizens throughout the United States.

Photo Credit: George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

December 6, 2020

Beginning when she was Second Lady, and continuing later as First Lady, Barbara Bush had her own tradition of placing the star on top of the National Christmas Tree from a hydraulic lift—often bringing her grandchildren along to lend a hand!

Photo Credit: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum

December 7, 2020

Today, we remember the attack on Pearl Harbor that 79 years ago took more than 2,000 American lives.

Just weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked, America was still in shock, struggling to find joy in the Christmas season. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, however, lifted spirits during his surprise visit to Washington for the holidays. The Prime Minister stayed for three weeks with President Franklin Roosevelt, talking from early in the morning until late at night.

On Christmas Eve, the President and Prime Minister delivered remarks from the South Portico of the White House for the lighting of the White House Christmas tree.

Photo Credit: William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

December 8, 2020

The tradition of displaying a Christmas tree made of cranberries in the Red Room began in 1975, later becoming a favorite of First Lady Nancy Reagan. The petite, crimson tree—made by hand in the White House and featuring more than 200 cranberries—is replaced midway through the holiday season to maintain freshness.

Photo Credit: The White House Historical Association

December 9, 2020

Before electric lights, Christmas trees were illuminated with candles. Despite electricity being installed in the White House in 1891, it wasn’t until 1895 under President Grover Cleveland that the White House family Christmas tree was lit with hundreds of colorful electric bulbs!

Photo Credit: Obama White House Archives

December 10, 2020

In 2014, 3D-printing enthusiasts were invited 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 Library of Congress’ Reading Room, and a snowy White House scene!

Photo Credit: National Archives

December 11, 2020

Yesterday at sundown, Jewish people from around the world began the celebration of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. This celebration has had a place of honor at the White House since 1979, when President Jimmy Carter lit the first National Menorah on the White House Ellipse.

The candle-lighting tradition that began over 2,000 years ago is rooted in perseverance and faith—two virtues that are indicative of the Jewish culture and the Jewish faith. This year’s observance of Hanukkah comes at a time when the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel has never been stronger.

Photo Credit: Bush Archives

December 12, 2020

The legendary gingerbread houses displayed in the White House during Christmastime have taken various forms over the years, from simple A-frame cottages to monuments and castles. In 2001, Executive Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier created a gingerbread replica of the White House as it would have looked in 1800, during the John Adams presidency—except Mesnier added the Bush family’s pets frolicking in the yard!

Photo Credit: National Archives and Records Administration

December 13, 2020

The White House typically hosts thousands of guests over the course of the Christmas season. The 1970 Christmas celebrations brought special guests from Sesame Street to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!

First Lady Patricia Nixon hosted Big Bird and his friends, including Oscar the Grouch, who performed a skit for children attending a Christmas party in the East Room of the White House. Mrs. Nixon reportedly walked around the East Room with two of Big Bird’s feathers tucked into her diamond broach.

Photo Credit: White House Historical Association

December 14, 2020

A popular myth suggests that President Theodore Roosevelt “banned” Christmas trees from the White House because of his strong belief in environmental conservation. But there was no such ban—the 26th President’s family simply did not celebrate with a tree.

In 1902, the President’s son Archie snuck a small Christmas tree into the residence and hid it in a closet. The President was amused and allowed the tree to stay, coining a new family tradition.

Photo Credit: Harris & Ewing Photographs

December 15, 2020

A raging fire consumed much of the West Wing during a Christmas Eve party hosted by President Herbert Hoover in 1929. As the President left to address the situation, First Lady Lou Hoover stayed behind to entertain the children, who were never aware of any trouble. The following year, some of the children received toy fire engines as a memento of the eventful party.

Photo Credit: Matthew D'Agostino for the White House Historical Association

December 16, 2020

In 1967, New Jersey philanthropist Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard, Jr. donated an 18th Century Italian crèche—that is, a nativity scene—to the White House Collection. The nearly 14’ tall display from Naples features 30 carved figurines and is crafted from terra cotta and carved wood.

This year marks the 53rd year that the Neapolitan crèche will be put on display in the White House.

Photo Credit: George W. Bush White House Archives

December 17, 2020

In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge received numerous requests to issue a holiday greeting. President Coolidge handwrote a Christmas message on White House stationery and requested that newspapers publish his note to the American people. Since then, presidents have continued issuing holiday greetings through annual Christmas cards from the First Family.

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

December 18, 2020

Nearly every inch of the White House residence is filled with Christmas festivity—but over time, decorators somehow find room for more! For years, President Eisenhower’s Administration held the record for most Christmas trees, boasting 26 trees in the Executive Residence in 1959. Since then, the record has grown to 47 trees in 1990, 49 trees in 2001, 62 trees in 2015, and then 41 Christmas trees paired with over 40 red topiary trees in 2018!

Photo Credit: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

December 19, 2020

In December 1980, White House staffers bundled up 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! First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s Christmas party also included hot chocolate booths, a petting zoo with live reindeer, and a fake snow machine.

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

December 20, 2020

For more than 50 years, one of the most beloved White House Christmas traditions has been the display of elaborate gingerbread houses made by the White House pastry kitchen.

This year’s Gingerbread House, a delicious masterpiece displayed on the iconic eagle pier table, replicates the West Wing, Executive Residence, East Wing, and—for the first time—the Rose Garden and the First Ladies’ Garden. Constructed from 275 pounds of gingerbread dough, 110 pounds of pastillage dough, 30 pounds of gum paste, 25 pounds of chocolate, and 25 pounds of royal icing. The White House pastry team took extra care in making sure that every detail, down to the smallest blossom, paid homage to “America the Beautiful.”

Photo Credit: Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum / NARA

December 21, 2020

First Lady Patricia Nixon opened the White House in 1969 for the first Christmas Candlelight Tour. Anyone willing to brave the cold by waiting in line could enter the residence—no special invitation required. Electric lights were dimmed; in their place, candles and fireplaces lit the rooms while bands of the Armed Forces played holiday tunes throughout the halls.

Photo Credit: White House Historical Association

December 22, 2020

Over the years, furry four-legged residents of the White House have often joined in holiday festivities. In 1969, the Nixon family dogs—Pasha, Vicki, and King Timahoe—posed for a Christmas portrait with a Santa Claus figure. In 2002, the Bush family enlisted the help of their Scottish Terrier, Barney, to give Americans a glimpse of the White House decorations with a video from a dog’s-eye perspective.

Photo Credit: Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

December 23, 2020

President William Howard Taft’s children—Robert, Helen, and Charlie—were the first to place a tree in the Blue Room, but First Lady Mamie Eisenhower was the first to consistently place a tree there.

Only twice has the official tree not been in the Blue Room. It was displayed in the Entrance Hall in 1962 because of renovations, and, in 1969, First Lady Patricia Nixon chose to display the tree again in the Entrance Hall, decorated with velvet and satin balls made by workers with disabilities featuring each state’s official flower.

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

December 24, 2020

Since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association has held a yearly competition to select the official White House Christmas Tree! Tree growers from across the United States participate in state and regional competitions in hopes of advancing to win the title of National Grand Champion.

This year’s Official White House Christmas Tree is an 18.5-foot tall Fraser Fir from West Virginia!