D.C.

History of White House Christmas trees

This is the Cleveland family Christmas tree from 1896. In 1895, the First Family strung electric lights on their Christmas tree. Photo: White House Historical Association
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(WJLA) - The Blue Room is anything but “blue” this time of year, especially when it comes to holiday cheer. In this oval-shaped space that’s typically used for receptions and intimate dinners, stands a gigantic Douglass fir decked out as only the official White House Christmas Tree can be.

The Christmas tree in the White House Blue Room gets Caroline Kennedy's attention, Dec. 13, 1961 as she inspects it before a party for White House employees given by her parents. AP Photo.
Photographs of military homecomings decorate the White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. AP Photo.
Rossalyn Carter with a Victorian dollhouse in 1978. AP Photo.

SEASONAL STYLE

The First Family’s home has always embraced the holiday season with a sense of style. In 1961, trend-setting Jacqueline Kennedy decorated the Blue Room tree with gingerbread men, snowflakes and small toys from her favorite holiday ballet, The Nutcracker.

Having the First Lady choose a theme is a tradition that’s been around for fifty years now. This year, Michelle Obama’s tree is filled with photos of military families and their homecomings. She also had kids living on military bases create holiday cards shaped like their home state. Red, white and blue ribbons hang from the tree’s branches. Obama’s White House Christmas theme is “Gather Around: Stories of the Season.”

RETRO MOTIFS

The theme was a little greener in the Carter White House of 1977. First Lady Rosalynn Carter designed a simple tree using ornaments made from pine cones, peanuts and egg shells. In 1980, she highlighted a Victorian theme.  According to historian Carl Anthony, under the tree was a Victorian dollhouse that First Kid Amy Carter helped set up. Ms. Carter also dressed up her trees with antique toys and folk art during her time at the White House.

Nancy Reagan unpacked and hung ornaments from previous Blue Room trees in 1988. She used hand blown glass ornaments from the Eisenhower White House and flower-themed Christmas balls from Pat Nixon to create an “Old Fashioned” tree.

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Over the years, the trees have also become a reflection of the times. Betty Ford’s tree was adorned with homemade ornaments to encourage people to be more frugal during the 70s recession. In 1895, First Lady Frances Cleveland did something that was extremely fashion forward and revolutionary. She ditched the candles and hung electric lights. Ms. Cleveland was known for her stylish holiday decor, and she even hosted an annual Christmas Eve bash for her young girls, with her elaborate tree as the centerpiece.

Today, with two daughters of her own, Michelle Obama has also established a tradition of including children in her celebrations. For several years now, Ms. Obama’s trees have encouraged people to remember the men, women and families who are part of our military services.

More than 70,000 people will visit the White House to get a special glimpse of the Blue Room tree this December – an evergreen that’s become a symbol of our nation during the holiday season.

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