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A Look at White House Christmas Traditions Through Time

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Throughout the years, each of the 46 US presidents have brought their own unique Christmas traditions to the white house. During the early years of the nation, white house Christmases were rather simple with small boughs of greens and wreaths, but no tree. The first White House Christmas party was held in 1800 by John and Abigail Adams for their four year old granddaughter who was living with them at the time. It was no extravagant affair and was attended by a small group of government officials and their children.


President Andrew Jackson was the first to introduce grand Christmas celebrations, as his 1835 “frolic” was one of the most elaborate parties ever held at the white house. It included games, dancing, and a grand dinner and ended with an indoor snowball fight using specially-made cotton balls.


President Benjamin Harrison was the first to bring a Christmas tree into the white house and President Grover Cleaveland’s tree was the first to feature electric lights in 1894. Some presidents like Theodore Roosevelt were known to omit a large Christmas tree from their festivities, as Roosevelt opted for a smaller tree due to his conservationist beliefs.


In 1961, First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy began the contemporary white house tradition of selecting a theme for the official white house Christmas tree. Her theme was “Nutcracker Suite Ballet''. This tradition is still going strong today. Some of the most memorable themes being the Clinton’s “Twas the night before Christmas” in 1995, the Bush’s ‘Home for the Holidays’ in 2001, the Obamas’ “A Timeless Tradition” in 2015, which featured a whopping 61 Christmas trees, and the Trump’s “American Treasures” which featured 41 Christmas trees and more than 40 topiaries.


So as you can see, each president and first family has brought their own personality and family traditions into the history of the holidays at the white house.

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