White House Christmas Trees: Special Themes Selected by the First Lady
White House Christmas Tree Tradition
Christmas trees are a tradition in most homes in the United States, and the White House is no exception. Since the 1800s, there has been a holiday tree adorning the White House most Christmas seasons.
President Hoover's wife started the tradition of the First Lady overseeing the decoration of the White House Christmas tree and almost every First Lady has followed suit.
It's not surprising that Jackie Kennedy, with her well known sense of style, initiated the routine of having a tree based on a certain theme. In 1961, Mrs. Kennedy chose a nutcracker motif for the tree that season which began a holiday tradition that endures to this day.
First Lady Melania Trump's 2017 theme is "Time-honored Traditions."
Video of 2017 First Lady Melania Trump's Theme of "Time-Honored Traditions"
1961 Theme: "Nutcracker Suite" by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy
1963 Was a Very Subdued Christmas After the Assassination of President Kennedy
1974 - Ornaments Made by Appalachian Women Presented by First Lady Betty Ford
First Lady Betty Ford and Daughter, Susan, Making Ornaments for the White House Christmas Tree
Popular Themes of White House Christmas Trees
Over the years, there have been many beautiful Christmas trees adorning the White House. Some were more memorable than others.
- 1974 - First Lady Betty Ford celebrated a homespun tree with patchwork ornaments that were made by women living in Appalachia. The White House furnished instructions so Americans could make their own Christmas ornaments.
- 1990 - Variations of the "Nutcracker Suite" theme made popular by Mrs. Kennedy were repeated by Barbara Bush in 1990 with tiny porcelain dancers. First Lady Hillary Clinton also showcased the same theme in 1996.
- 1994 - Mrs. Clinton invited art students from across the United States to make ornaments for a tree highlighting the poem The Twelve Days of Christmas.
- 2007 - A very popular theme, "Holiday in the National Parks" was the idea of First Lady Laura Bush. The ornaments represented the 391 National Park Service sites in the United States. The one pictured below depicts Yellowstone National Park and shows a steamy geyser, bison and elk. Each ornament that year reflected scenes you would see in a particular park.
- 2010 - First Lady Michelle Obama decorated the tree with a unique theme idea called "Simple Gifts." It honored state and county fairs using prize ribbons from each state and territory.
Rosalynn Carter and Grandchildren With 1980 Theme Tree "Old Fashion Victorian Christmas"
1981 Ornaments Loaned by Museum of American Folk Art for First Lady Nancy Reagan
Mrs. Reagan Trimming the Tree in 1982
Barbara Bush in 1991 Displaying Her Theme of "Needlepoint Christmas"
1995 Theme "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by First Lady Hillary Clinton
2002 Theme "All Creatures Great and Small" by First Lady Laura Bush
2007 Theme "Holiday in the National Parks" by First Lady Laura Bush
White House Christmas Tree Controversies From 1899 to 2018
The White House Christmas tree is a cut tree that is between 18 to 20 feet tall. Since 1966, the trees have been donated by the National Christmas Tree Association. They come from growers in various states, with the most from North Carolina, and are chosen through a contest among the members of the trade group.
Controversy surrounding the tree comes from environmentalists that claim the tradition of a live cut tree is in direct opposition to the environmental cause. As early as 1899, President William McKinley received complaints that Christmas trees were un-American because their part in holiday decorating began in Germany.
In 1995, First Lady Hillary Clinton requested the tree ornaments for that year be made by architecture students at the American Institute of Architects. The theme was based on the poem, The Night Before Christmas and in reference to the line "and all through the house", ornaments resembled architectural elements such as chimneys, windows, shutters and porches. The White House received an ornament that was two stockings, one marked "Bill" and the other marked "Newt". President Clinton's stocking was full of candy, while Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's stocking was overflowing with coal. Not surprisingly, the ornament was hung on the tree without censorship.
During the George W. Bush administration, a Seattle artist submitted a controversial ornament to be used to decorate the 2008 holiday tree. It was a large 9 inch red and white striped ball with the words "Impeach Bush" painted on it. It was the only ornament rejected out of the 370 entered for the patriotic theme of "A Red, White and Blue Christmas".
First Lady Michelle Obama was criticized for the dress she wore in the official White House Christmas tree picture for 2009 shown above. Many felt that previous First Ladies were dressed more appropriately for their photographs in front of the tree than Mrs. Obama in her strapless purple dress showing bare shoulders and cleavage.
The 2012 decorations of Mrs. Obama were criticized as being extravagant during the economic depression of that time period. There were 54 decorated trees in the White House that were purchased with taxpayer money.
Probably the most controversial of any White House decorations has been caused by Mrs. Trump with her 2018 theme of "American Traditions". As you can see in the video below, her use of the color red extends to the trees along a hallway in the East Wing. Many people think it looks too stark. However, the First Lady finds it strikingly beautiful. After all, it is her home. And, huge numbers of people are buying their own red trees to decorate their homes!
Express Your Opinion About the 2018 White House Christmas Trees
Do you like the red Christmas trees of First Lady Trump?
Interesting Facts About the White House Christmas Tree
The official White House tree is usually displayed in the Blue Room with smaller trees in other rooms. It is so tall that the Blue Room chandelier has to be removed to make room for the giant tree. It is sometimes set up in the Entrance Hall but the decision of the tree location is entirely up to the First Lady.
In 1895, the tree, which was decorated by First Lady Frances Cleveland, featured electric lights for the first time.
President Theodore Roosevelt, a staunch environmentalist, refused to allow a Christmas tree in the White House during the 1901 and 1902 holiday seasons. He felt that harvesting the trees was bad for the environment. However, in 1903, he relented and allowed a tree to be part of the White House decorations. He had discovered that his 10 year old son, Archie, had secretly decorated a tree hidden in his closet. To the delight of Archie and the other Roosevelt children, the President realized the joy of Christmas for his family was more important than the harmful effects of cutting down one tree.
Sadly, 1962 was the only White House Christmas to be celebrated by the Kennedy family as the President was assassinated in November of 1963. After his death, the nation was in a 30-day period of mourning and the White House was draped with black bunting. Just a few days before Christmas, the new First Lady Johnson arranged for very subdued decorations and a modest Christmas tree to be placed in the White House. The black bunting was removed.
The White House Christmas Tree ... A Beautiful Tradition
It has been said that pictures are worth a thousand words. This is certainly true of the White House Christmas trees. Varying themes and unique decorations chosen by our very talented First Ladies represent an endearing tradition that portrays our great nation well and reflects our country's wish for Joy to the World!
Volunteer to Help Decorate the White House!
Did you know you can volunteer to help decorate the White House? Yes, you can and what an amazing and special way to celebrate the holiday!
Here is an extremely detailed article written by one of the White House Christmas volunteers about his experience and how he was selected to participate: https://toddrichesininteriors.com/blog/design-news/christmas-decorating-at-the-white-house
Submit Your Name to be a Volunteer Christmas Decorator
To volunteer to be part of the White House decorating crew for Christmas 2019, check the White House website in early 2019 for an application.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Thelma Raker Coffone