It doesn't seem like Christmas unless there's a Christmas tree in the house, does it? Sure, you can have stockings hung by the chimney with care, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and even a partridge in a pear tree. But it’s just not the same without an evergreen standing tall in the corner of the den, an angel Christmas tree topper perched at the tip, brightly-wrapped presents nestled below, and that fresh, clean, unmistakable fragrance filling the room. Putting up a tree at Christmas is a time-honored, cherished tradition for most Americans, and that includes those living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
For 130 years, give or take a Christmas here or there, there has been an official White House Christmas tree to celebrate the holiday. Through good times and bad, during periods of peace and prosperity and eras of conflict and strike, our president and his family have gathered around the White House tree on Christmas, just like the rest of us. They’ve opened presents and sipped hot chocolate, sang carols and ate turkey, grateful for Yuletide blessings. As the most wonderful time of the year draws closer, we thought we’d help get you in the spirit of the season by taking a look back at the history of the now-iconic White House Christmas tree.
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—and patriotic—red, white and blue.
When was the first White House Christmas tree installed in the Blue Room?
It's believed that the first Christmas tree in the Blue Room was put up by President William H. Taft's children in 1912. Their parents were in Panama at the time, so they tucked it away there as a surprise for their seven young cousins, who were visiting for the holiday. But the tradition of the Blue Room Christmas tree didn't really get going until First Lady Lou Henry Hoover supervised the decoration of it in 1929.
Since then, the Blue Room has been home to the White House's official Christmas tree, trimmed annually by the first lady. In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy kicked off the custom of a themed Blue Room tree by garnishing it with characters from the “Nutcracker Suite” ballet. Other themes have included First Lady Lady Bird Johnson’s “Early American,” featuring gingerbread men decorations and ornaments, and First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2013 theme “Gather Around: Stories of the Season,” which included holiday greeting cards from servicemen and women’s families.
Where have the most White House Blue Room Christmas trees come from?
North Carolina holds the honor of sending the most trees bound for the Blue Room at Christmas (since 1961), with a total of 13. Pennsylvania is second with 10, followed by Wisconsin's eight.
What president banned the White House Christmas tree?
That would be President Theodore Roosevelt. According to legend, the ardent conservationist wasn't too keen on chopping down trees for Christmas. But President Roosevelt's eight-year-old son, Archie, supposedly snuck a wee tree upstairs past his dad, squirreling it away in a sewing room closet.
What kind of evergreen has been used most often as the White House Christmas tree?
The winner by a mile is fir. In fact, 51 fir trees have graced the Blue Room at Christmas since 1961. Spruces have gotten the thumbs up just seven times, and pines only once.
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