White House Christmas

White House Christmas


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Benjamin Harrison's Lavish Christmas

Benjamin Harrison was not known for celebrations. He was generally considered to have a fairly bland personality. He was quiet and scholarly, and after serving as president he wrote a textbook on government. Voters knew that he taught Sunday school. His reputation was not for frivolity, so it seems odd that he would be known for having the first White House Christmas tree.

He took office in March 1889, at a time when most Americans had adapted to the idea of Christmas as a celebratory holiday symbolized by Santa Claus and Christmas trees. So it's possible that Harrison's Christmas cheer was simply a matter of timing.

It is also conceivable that Harrison took a great interest in Christmas because of his own family history. His grandfather, William Henry Harrison, was elected president when Benjamin was seven years old. And the elder Harrison served the shortest term of any president. A cold he had caught, probably while delivering his inaugural address, which lasted for two hours in a horrific winter weather, turned into pneumonia.

William Henry Harrison died in the White House on April 4, 1841, only a month after taking office. His grandson never got to enjoy a Christmas in the White House as a child. Perhaps that's why Harrison made an effort to have elaborate Christmas celebrations in the White House focused on the amusement of his own grandchildren.

Harrison's grandfather, though born on a Virginia plantation, had campaigned in 1840 by aligning himself with common folk with the "Log Cabin and Hard Cider" campaign. His grandson, taking office at the height of the Gilded Age, had no embarrassment about showcasing an affluent lifestyle in the White House .

The newspaper accounts of the Harrison family Christmas in 1889 are packed full of details which must have been willingly passed along for public consumption. A story on the front page of the New York Times on Christmas Day 1889 began by noting that many presents intended for the president's grandchildren had been stowed away in a White House bedroom. The article also mentioned "the wonderful Christmas tree, which is to dazzle the eyes of the White House babies. "

The tree was described as a "foxtail hemlock, 8 or 9 feet tall, liberally decked with glittering glass balls and pendants, while from the topmost branch to the edge of the square table on which the tree stands it is showered over with countless strands of gold tinsel. To add to the brilliant effect, the end of every branch is capped with four-sided lanterns of various colors and finished with a long point of shining glass filled with quicksilver."

The New York Times article also described a lavish array of toys President Harrison would be giving to his grandson on Christmas morning:

The article also noted that the president's young granddaughter would be receiving a number of gifts, including "jumping jacks with cap and bells, a tiny piano, rocking chairs, all manner of furry coated animals, and bits of jewelry, and last, but by no means least, at the base of the tree is to stand a real Santa Claus, three feet high, laden with toys, dolls, and stockings filled with bonbons."

The article concluded with a florid description of how the tree would be lit late on Christmas Day:

The first White House Christmas tree to be decorated with electric lights appeared in December 1894, during the second term of Grover Cleveland. According to the White House Historical Association, the tree lit with electric bulbs was placed in the second floor library and was enjoyed by Cleveland's two young daughters.

A small front-page item in the New York Times on Christmas Eve 1894 seemed to refer to that tree when it stated, "A gorgeous Christmas tree will be lighted at twilight with vari-colored electric lamps."

The way Christmas was celebrated in the White House at the end of the 19th century was vastly different than when the century began.


Christmas at the White House Through the Years

See how the leaders of the free world and their families have decked the halls.

Timeless as they may seem, Christmas trees have not had a place in the White House for as long as you might imagine. For most of the 19th century, first families decorated the president's residence with low-key greenery&mdashsimple wreaths, garlands, and ornaments. President Benjamin Harrison erected the first Christmas tree in the White House in 1889, decorated with candles, toys, and ornaments to delight his grandchildren, but it wasn't until Cleveland's presidency that the first Christmas lights appeared in 1894. Take a look at the White House Christmas decorations throughout the last century.

The White House East Hall christmas tree was to be admired by visitors, while President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also had a family tree on the second floor.

During his 12 years in office, FDR had many family Christmas traditions, such as lighting the tree with real candles, a reading of Charles Dicken's Christmas Carol , and a Christmas day church service.

Just as America entered World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelts welcomed Winston Churchill to the White House for Christmas.


Who was the first president to have a Christmas tree in the White House?

He may not be remembered for much else, but in 1889, President Benjamin Harrison placed the first Christmas tree in the White House. It was displayed in the Yellow Oval Room on the second floor, which was used as a library and parlor for the First Family at that time, and festooned with toys for the president's grandkids.

Because the White House didn't have electricity until 1891, wax candles illuminated the tree. (Decades later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt probably put everyone on edge when he returned to this rather risky tradition, using candles on the East Hall's tree.) In 1894, during Grover Cleveland's presidency, the White House Christmas tree blazed with electric bulbs for the first time. They were colored a cheery&mdashand patriotic&mdashred, white and blue.


White House Christmas - HISTORY

An on-duty member of Secret Service Uniformed Division placed the first White House Gift Shop Secret Service Unformed Division Series Ornament on the White House Christmas Tree decades ago. Now, the collection is prized by discerning collectors, traders, and gift givers worldwide with two new ornaments and displays added each year to the main collection. The White House Collection began in 1946 with a simple ball ornament which we will recreate in 2017. We have discovered from interviews with retired White House Gift Shop USSS volunteers, the concepts or plans for the "lost years" from 1946 to 1991 and will re-create the "lost years" in 2017 which makes The White House Annual Ornament Collection the largest collection of its kind in the world. Years available now include 1991 through the current year including the limited edition President Obama Commemorative and the President as Commander in Chief ornament which honors military service and the creation of the Purple Heart Medal entitled: George Washington, Order of the Purple Heart and the Liberation of Boston.

This year's main collection White House ornaments for 2016 are:

George Washington: Order of the Purple Heart and the Liberation of Boston with Special White House Display Stand, Designed by Anthony Giannini, USAFR, Limited to 2500


Christmas

Christmas Tote
Winter Holidays and the White House (#59)
Gold Twist Ornament Stand
White House Snowglobe Ornament
Wooden Advent Calendar

White House Windows Christmas Cards

South Lawn Christmas Tote
Miniature Mug Ornament Set


Six of the most iconic White House Christmas cards

It has become tradition for the president of the United States to send out a holiday greeting card in December, and this year will likely be no different.

The first presidential holiday greetings were sent out as personal Christmas cards from leaders to their friends, family and colleagues. They were not sent in any official capacity they were just something the presidents at that time wanted to do.

Since then, the tradition has become an official function of the president.

Although the number of people who end up on the recipients list for the Christmas cards has grown significantly in recent years, it is still considered a rare honour to be included on the mailing list if you are not a lawmaker, diplomat or government official.

For the rest of us who didn't make the cut, here is a list of six of the more interesting White House Christmas and holiday cards.

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Calvin Coolidge, 1927

The 1927 Christmas greeting from Calvin Coolidge.

Though historians do not provide a conclusive date for the start of White House Christmas traditions, Calvin Coolidge is often credited with beginning two of the most iconic presidential Christmas traditions issuing a holiday greeting, and lighting the White House Christmas tree.

Some historians say Mr Coolidge was sending out Christmas greetings in the early 1920s, but the first official greeting associated with him was sent in 1927.

The 1927 message was written in the president’s hand on a stark piece of White House stationary. The message was dated 25 December, 1927, and was directed “to the American People".

"Christmas is not a time or season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas – If we think these things there will be born in us a Savior and over us all will shine a star – sending is gleam of hope to the world," the message said.

Mr Coolidge lit the White House Christmas tree in 1923, during a ceremony called the Pageant of Peace.

According to the White House Historical Association, Mr Coolidge also sent Christmas greetings to a six-man Arctic expedition team, who were likely some of the closest humans to the north pole at that time.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1944

President Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1944 Christmas card.

No president has sent more Christmas greetings than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That is largely by default, as he was in office for 12 years.

Mr Roosevelt's Christmases spanned an exceptionally tumultuous time in American history – his term began amidst the Great Depression, and ended just after World War II.

The 1944 White House Christmas card was issued in the midst of World War II, and featured Mr Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt seated beside a lit fireplace.

"With Christmas greetings and our best wishes for a Happier Nineteen Forty-five. The President and Mrs Roosevelt," the card read.

The image likely reminded recipients of Mr Roosevelt's fireside chat radio broadcasts, which became a source of comfort and a reminder of stability for Americans during the most violent and brutal years of the war.

During his 12 years in office, Mr Roosevelt spent 10 Christmases in the White House, and two at his home in Hyde Park, New York.

Every year on Christmas Eve, Mr Roosevelt hosted a party for the White House staff, where he and Ms Roosevelt would try to greet all of their staff and give them small gifts to thank them for their work.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1953 Christmas card, the first official White House holiday mailer.

Up until President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Christmas greetings sent out by presidents were largely personal greetings. According to the White House Historical Association, the first official presidential Christmas card was sent by Mr Eisenhower in 1953.

The card, produced by Hallmark, was striking for the image that dominated its cover sheet – the Presidential Seal. The card was embossed on the front with holly leaves and berries, and inside bore the signatures of Mamie Eisenhower and the president.

Hallmark produced 1100 cards, which were sent to diplomats, cabinet members, Congressional lawmakers and other government officials.

The Eisenhowers also commissioned 500 personal cards that they sent to friends and family members.

Mr Eisnhower included the Presidential Seal on every card he sent during his time in office.

The text inside the 1953 card was simple: "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year", followed by the signatures of the president and the first lady.

Mr Eisenhower was an artist, and used his talent to produce Christmas gifts for White House staff members. In 1953, the president painted a portrait of Abraham Lincoln while he was waiting for news on the Korean armistice. He reproduced the portrait and gave copies to his staff at the White House Christmas party that year.

Lyndon B Johnson, 1963

The stark white Christmas card sent by President Lyndon B Johnson in 1963, just a month after John F Kennedy was assassinated.

Presidential Christmas greetings can be used not just to send goodwill to the public, but also to address the national mood.

In 1963 President Lyndon Johnson sent out a subdued, minimal Christmas card.

The card featured a stark white Presidential Seal and came in two variants: one that said "Blessed Christmas" and another that said "Seasons Greetings".

The bottom of the card included a red border.

The card used the simple design because it was issued during the official mourning period following the assassination of President John F Kennedy.

The card replaced the Kennedy’s official card, which included a photo of the nativity scene in the White House East Room. The cards were signed but were never sent, and remain the most rare White House Christmas cards in existence.

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Five days after Mr Kennedy's death, the White House's chief of protocol advised Mr Johnson to keep up the tradition of issuing a Christmas greeting, despite the dire circumstances.

That year's recipients list was far more limited than it had been in past years, and included few government officials and lawmakers.

On 22 December, 1963, Mr Johnson led a candlelight memorial service for Mr Kennedy, noting the Christmas holiday in his address.

“So let us here on this Christmas night determine that John Kennedy did not live or die in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of peace on earth, good will toward all men,” he said.

George W Bush, 2002

President George W Bush’s 2002 Christmas card, which was sent to more than 1 million people.

By 2002, the official White House Christmas cards had stopped using the word "Christmas", replacing the proper noun with the more inclusive "seasons greetings" or "happy holidays". Even so, the tradition of sending out a greeting card during the winter holidays persisted.

That year, President George W Bush and First Lady Laura Bush chose an image of a 1938 Steinway grand piano inside the White House Grand Foyer for their card that year, which was painted in photo-realistic style by artist Zhen-Huan Lu.

Outside of the impressive work of art, the card is otherwise unremarkable when viewed against other presidential Christmas greetings. What makes the Bush family card historically significant is that it was the first presidential Christmas card to have more than 1 million recipients.

The Bush family sent out significantly more Christmas cards than the Clintons before them. In Bill and Hillary Clinton's last year at the White House, the first family sent out 400,000 Christmas cards. In 2001, Mr Bush and his wife sent out 875,000.

The New York Times wrote about the record-breaking Christmas mailing at the time, and estimated that just the postage for the mass mailing would cost around $370,000.

Barack Obama, 2013/2015

Though Barack Obama took unwarranted flack in 2011 from conservative media outlets for his Christmas card not having enough "Christmas" in it, his cards in 2013 and 2015 were celebrated for making the annual holiday messages more interactive.

Mr Obama's 2013 card was a pop-up card, which featured a detailed paper pop-up of the White House when opened.

The White House has black windows, a tiny American flag flying from the top, and a pop-up Bo and Sunny – Mr Obama's dogs – playing on the lawn.

Below the White House, Mr Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters signed their names. The signatures even included the pawprints of the president's dogs.

In 2015, the Obamas' card folded out to feature a skyline that included the White House, the Capitol, and the Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson memorials. all decorated in lights.

The foldout skyline was made of red paper, with yellow details filling in windows and string lights decorating the structures.

When the card is folded up, the structures layer overtop of each other, allowing the recipient to see each of the landmarks without opening the card.

The card read "with gratitude and cheer, we send our warmest wishes for health and happiness this holiday season".


Never-Before-Seen Photos Show a History of White House Holidays

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Children admire the official White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room. December 29, 1965. Photo: Courtesy of James P. Blair

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As is custom, in between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, The White House unveils its holiday decorations. Room upon historical room is festooned with garlands, ribbons, and ornaments—a festive tradition stewarded by the First Lady for all to enjoy. But for those administrations spanning Johnson to George Bush Senior, there was another holiday event on the calendar: The annual Diplomatic Children’s Party. From 1964 to the early 1990s, diplomat parents who hailed from all over and found themselves in D.C. on assignment were able to bring their tiny tots to the White House for some holiday cheer come Christmastime.

Though it was Lady Bird Johnson who first presided over the event, as Matthew R. Costello, senior historian at the White House Historical Association, explains, the party can be traced back to Mrs. Kennedy, who was one of the first to welcome the young international group to the White House. “Mrs. Kennedy started working with The Hospitality and Information Service for Diplomats organization and at some of her early White House events, she invited the children of diplomats to musical concerts—performances by children and for children.”

Though it goes without saying, Mrs. Kennedy had a profound impact on the makings and keepings of White House tradition. In 1961, she would establish The White House Historical Association, an organization dedicated to conserving and documenting the White House present, knowing it would soon be a treasured past. In the archives of the WHHA are recordings of all the fine and decorative arts that inhabit the White House and a trove of photographs taken within the hallowed Pennsylvania Avenue property.

Almost 60 years later, the WHHA recently restored a selection of images from the once-annual Diplomatic Children’s Holiday Party. The fruits of their labor can be seen here for the very first time.

Peruse the images for a look at holidays past. Most times, the First Lady (and sometimes, the President) was on hand to shake hands and wish good tidings. But if work kept them away, there was something else on the program to delight the little ones. In 1969, First Lady Pat Nixon brought in dancers from the Washington School of Ballet to perform Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" in the East Room. In 1977, esteemed actress Helen Hayes turned up to greet guests at First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s event—for which the FLOTUS convinced her daughter, Amy, to dress up as a clown. And in 1985, at the pique of their popularity, life-sized Cabbage Patch dolls roamed the party.

Viewing the images is to draw a through line between White Houses administrations of yore—holidays were bipartisan and there was no agenda but good cheer. A young boy with his cheeks puffed, blows into the borrowed bugle belonging to an army musical. Another boy walks a corridor in the White House, dedicated to his mission of inflating his red balloon. A girl with a ribbon tied in her hair stands in awe (or terror) of a clown. The celebrations weren't political, or at least, the children enjoying the festivities were blissfully unaware of them.

Of the photos, Costello admits his surprise at what they reveal. “We always assumed that there had been these types of Christmas parties but that wasn’t the case. This was a relatively recently created tradition and it survived for more than 25 years before then it vanished.”

This week, the White House unveiled its holiday decor. In the Vermeil Room, a space that appears permanently awash in the glow of candlelight thanks in part to its golden wall coverings, is a tree—one of 62 that now deck the White House halls—that honors the Kennedys. Hanging on its branches are sailboat figurines and miniature portraits of Mr. President Kennedy. A version of the ornament is available for purchase—from the White House to your house. (Among the many White House traditions is the release of an annual tree ornament.)

Taken by photographers from National Geographic, the over 650 unseen images from the Diplomatic Children’s Parties were in the safekeeping of the WHHA, preserved on 35mm film glass slides. A multiple year-long digitization endeavor allowed the organization’s researchers to behold them in a whole new way. “A lot of these children were wearing traditional garbs from their native home countries,” says Costello. “I just thought it was really cool to see that in the White House. You see these children and they're kids, right? It's a party. But in a way, they're sort of like little ambassadors of their country. If I had more spare time, Iɽ love to try to figure out the names of these people. Where are they now? What are they doing?”

Now that the photos live online, perhaps this is a task not so farfetched. As Costello explains, the WHHA would love to hear from those partygoers. “We want people to share their experiences with us so that we can present this particular historic event in the best and most accurate portrayal.” As we all know from Ebenezer, Christmases past inform the present and future.


Watch the video: The Official 2021 White House Christmas Ornament Video