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White House Christmas Trees: Special Themes Selected by the First Lady

2009 Theme "Reflect, Rejoice, Renew" by First Lady Michelle Obama

President and First Lady Obama - 2009 White House Christmas Tree
President and First Lady Obama - 2009 White House Christmas Tree | Source

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 1800's, 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 Michelle Obama's 2014 theme is "A Children's Winter Wonderland".

1974 - Ornaments Made by Appalachian Women presented by First Lady Betty Ford

First Lady Betty Ford and the 1974 White House Christmas Tree
First Lady Betty Ford and the 1974 White House Christmas Tree | Source
First Lady Betty Ford and daugter, Susan, making ornaments for the White House Christmas Tree
First Lady Betty Ford and daugter, Susan, making ornaments for the White House Christmas Tree | Source

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.

2007 Theme "Holiday in the National Parks" by First Lady Laura Bush

Ornament representing Yellowstone National Park from the Laura Bush 2007 tree
Ornament representing Yellowstone National Park from the Laura Bush 2007 tree | Source

1961 Theme "Nutcracker Suite" by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy

President and Mrs. Kennedy in front of the White  House Christmas Tree, December 13, 1961
President and Mrs. Kennedy in front of the White House Christmas Tree, December 13, 1961 | Source

1995 Theme "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by First Lady Hillary Clinton

Clinton Administration - 1995 White House Christmas Tree
Clinton Administration - 1995 White House Christmas Tree | Source

Barbara Bush in 1991 displaying her theme of "Needlepoint Christmas"

Barbara Bush1991
Barbara Bush1991 | Source

White House Christmas Tree Controversy

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.

1981 Ornaments Loaned by Museum of American Folk Art

President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan in front of the 1981 White House Christmas Tree
President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan in front of the 1981 White House Christmas Tree

2002 Theme "All Creatures Great and Small" by First Lady Laura Bush

White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room Note: Chandelier Was Removed to Make Room for the Large Tree
White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room Note: Chandelier Was Removed to Make Room for the Large Tree | Source

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, 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.

1963 Was a Very Subdued Christmas after the Assassination of President Kennedy

Mrs. Johnson's 1963 tree just after President Kennedy's assassination.
Mrs. Johnson's 1963 tree just after President Kennedy's assassination. | Source

Rosalynn Carter and Grandchildren with 1980 theme tree "Old Fashion Victorian Christmas"

Mrs. Carter and her 1980 theme tree, "Old Fashion Victorian Christmas"
Mrs. Carter and her 1980 theme tree, "Old Fashion Victorian Christmas" | Source

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!

Mrs. Reagan trimming the tree in 1982

Nancy Reagan was one of the few First Ladies who played an active role in the actual tree decorating.
Nancy Reagan was one of the few First Ladies who played an active role in the actual tree decorating. | Source

© 2012 Thelma Raker Coffone

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Please Share Your Comments on "White House Christmas Trees" 10 comments

ThelmaC profile image

ThelmaC 24 months ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA Author

Thank you rebeccamealey. I think this type of hub deserves many pictures as the trees are all so beautiful!


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 24 months ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

This very interesting and well put together. All the photos add so much. I enjoyed it!


ThelmaC profile image

ThelmaC 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA Author

SweetbeariesArt I agree with you about the Betty and Susan Ford picture. When I found it, I knew I had to use it in the hub. They looked like they were having such fun and didn't seem posed at all. Thanks for your nice comments!


SweetbeariesArt profile image

SweetbeariesArt 3 years ago from California

I enjoyed seeing all the Christmas tree photos from the White House of years past. I really like the picture of Betty Ford with her daughter Susan. This picture seems real and not like it was a pose, like the other ones.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

One of my greatest presents of this special season is the decorations. I love them so… Trees and decorating themes are among my favorites, so I truly enjoyed this creative and informative hub. Thank you!


ThelmaC profile image

ThelmaC 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA Author

Lipnancy thanks for your nice comments. Yes they are huge! The rooms in the White House are really small by today's standards. That together with the size of the trees makes them look really really big.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 3 years ago from Hamburg, New York

What beautiful trees they are! So big and full of life.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 3 years ago from Hamburg, New York

What beautiful trees they are! So big and full of life.


ThelmaC profile image

ThelmaC 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA Author

billybuc thanks for your nice comments. I am so happy to have you as a follower of my work!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

That was quite interesting, Thelma! Great facts and those trees are quite beautiful.

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