White House holidays have evolved over the last two hundred-some years from a personal family affair in the private quarters to the national celebration that it is today. But through the years, some very special traditions have developed—learn about these White House holiday traditions and you will probably want to schedule a trip to Washington, DC, to be a part of them.
• 1834, Indoor Snowball Fight: President Andrew Jackson gave an elaborate Christmas entertainment for his children and grandchildren. It included games, dancing, a huge feast and ended with an indoor “snowball fight” with specially fashioned cotton balls.
• 1889, The First Christmas Tree: Before the 1900’s, Christmas at the White House was celebrated privately. The first White House Christmas tree was decorated with candles and toys and placed in President Benjamin Harrison’s living quarters.
• 1903, A ‘Green’ Christmas: Noted conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt didn’t believe in cutting down trees for Christmas decorations. Instead, he threw a carnival for 500 children complete with dinner, dancing, souvenirs and Santa-shaped ice cream. However, Roosevelt’s son Archie defied the Christmas tree ban and smuggled a small tree into an upstairs sewing room
• 1909, A ‘Blue’ Christmas: President William H. Taft was the first president to have a tree in the public portion of the White House. His children helped him decorate that first tree in the Blue Room. Today, the Blue Room still hosts the official tree (one of many trees in the White House) and many presidents and their families have posed in front of it for their official Christmas photo.
• 1923, A National Tree: President Calvin Coolidge expanded the celebration beyond the Blue Room with the lighting of the first National Christmas Tree, located outside the White House in a public viewing area. The celebration became the month-long Pageant of Peace following World War II and the Korean War as a way to commemorate the end of the wars.
• 1961, A Nutcracker Christmas: First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy started the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. That first year she selected the “Nutcracker Suite” – a popular theme. First ladies Barbara Bush and Hilary Clinton both revisited the theme in later years.
• 1979, The First National Menorah: President Jimmy Carter was the first to officially recognize the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah when he lit the nation’s first official Menorah. Today, the presidential lighting ceremony continues, and the National Menorah is part of the Pageant of Peace.
• 1995, A Chocolate Christmas: A vey favorite decoration has become the white chocolate replica of the White House. A tradition since the 1960s, today visitors will find this delicious architectural feat, which can weigh up to 300 pounds and take months to create, displayed in the State Dining Room.
• 2008, A Red, White and Blue Christmas: While the First Lady picks the official holiday theme, she is often inspired by American citizens. In 2008, First Lady Laura Bush selected a patriotic theme after receiving many letters suggesting the White House make it a red, white and blue Christmas to recognize the nation’s patriotic pride during war time.
I can’t wait to schedule a Christmas trip to the White House to see all these amazing decorations in person. In the meantime, remember that HGTV has annual specials on decorating the White House for the holidays.