Winter at the White House

The White House is full of holiday traditions from parties and decorations to the lighting of the National Christmas Tree and Menorah. Today we’re looking back on winter holidays for each President in our Presidential Library system.

The National Christmas Tree is illuminated on the Ellipse in Washington DC, 12/9/2010. (National Archives Identifier 176553384)

Before its permanent home on the Ellipse, the National Christmas Tree had a few different locations, including Sherman Square during President Herbert Hoover’s administration. During the 1931 tree lighting ceremony, when Hoover pressed the button to illuminate the tree a buzzer went off, but it was not actually connected to the electricity; the buzzer just alerted another official to light the tree.

President Hoover and his family in front of the nation’s Christmas tree, Sherman Square. 12/25/1931. (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, National Archives)

Franklin D. Roosevelt celebrated the most holidays in the White House during his 12 years as President. Here, FDR celebrates Christmas with his family in the East Room of the White House. Instead of focusing on the camera, almost all eyes appear to be on Roosevelt’s young grandson, John Roosevelt Boettiger, who also lived in the White House during FDR’s Presidency.

The Roosevelt family in the East Room of the White House, 12/25/1941. (National Archives Identifier 6728527)

The lighting of the National Christmas Tree dates back to 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge pushed a button to light the first “community” Christmas tree on the White House grounds. Here, President Harry S. Truman continued the tradition during the 1945 lighting ceremony, which had been on hiatus since 1941 because of the World War II.

President Truman pressing a button to light the National Community Christmas Tree on the White House Grounds, 12/24/1945. (National Archives Identifier 199273)

Those who are lucky and well-connected get holiday cards from the President of the United States. This simple season’s greeting from President Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower features just the Presidential seal and a message of best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

Christmas card from President and Mrs. Eisenhower, 1955. (National Archives Identifier 76643382)

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy made an appearance at the White House Staff Christmas party near the Christmas tree in the Cross Hall. Cross Hall is a hallway on the first floor in the White House that connects the State Dining Room with the East Room—during the holidays it is usually decked out with festive decorations.

President John F. Kennedy and and First Lady Jackie Kennedy make an appearance at the White House Staff Christmas Party, 12/12/1962. (National Archives Identifier 6817174)

President Lyndon B. Johnson preferred to spend the holidays at his Texas ranch. In 1967, First Lady Lady Bird Johnson convinced the President to spend Christmas in Washington, DC—the first time since Johnson took office that the family celebrated the holiday in the White House.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson on Christmas Eve, 12/24/1967. (C8098-27A, LBJ Presidential Library, National Archives)

In 1971, First Lady Pat Nixon and her daughter Julie Eisenhower showed off one of the many handmade state Christmas tree ornaments during the annual press corps tour to view White House Christmas decorations.

First Lady Pat Nixon and Julie Eisenhower standing in front of the White House Christmas Tree, 12/13/1971. (National Archives Identifier 27580117)

In 1974, during the Gerald Ford administration, there was a competition to see whose tree would grace the White House Blue Room. Here we see the winning tree of that competition arrive in the South Driveway, from Ed and Mardee Cole, owners of the Ed-Mar Tree Farm, Mayville, Michigan.

A sign on the truck that delivered the Blue Room Christmas tree from Ed and Mardee Cole, owners of the Ed-Mar Tree Farm, Mayville, Michigan, 12/6/1974. (National Archives Identifier 6829630)

The tradition of the National Menorah dates back to 1979, thanks to Orthodox Jewish leader Abraham Shemtov, who was convinced that the nation’s capital needed a menorah too. Here, on what appears to be a very cold December evening, President Jimmy Carter participates in the lighting of the first National Menorah with Rabbi Shemtov.

Jimmy Carter Lighting the Menorah with Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, 12/17/1979. (National Archives Identifier 6783241)

President Ronald Reagan was known to have dressed up as Santa in celebration of the most wonderful time of the year. Here he sneaks a kiss from First Lady Nancy Reagan under the mistletoe at the White House.

President Reagan kisses Nancy Reagan under mistletoe Christmas decorations at the White House, 12/9/1984. (National Archives Identifier 75853793)

Roland Mesnier began his career as White House Executive Pastry Chef in 1979 and went on to become the longest tenured chef there. Serving five Presidents over 26 years, Mesnier made countless sweets for the First Family. He introduced themed gingerbread houses to the White House holidays during the George H. W. Bush administration.

White House Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier making Christmas decorations, 12/6/1991. (George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, National Archives)

No holiday list is complete without a photo of the First Pets. Anyone who’s had a cat can certainly understand that our feline friends can’t help themselves around Christmas trees, even cats in the White House. Here President Clinton’s cat, Socks, is making some merry mischief under the White House Christmas Tree.

President Clinton’s cat, Socks, under the White House Christmas Tree, 12/21/1993. (National Archives Identifier 6036913)

Cats aren’t the only First Pets to be drawn to holiday decorations. Here President George W. Bush’s dog Barney sniffs wrapped gifts placed under the White House Christmas Tree in 2005. You may remember that the previous year the First Family released the “Barney Cam” video highlighting Barney’s antics looking for his pal Miss Beazley.

Barney looks at presents under a Christmas Tree in the East Room of the White House, 11/30/2005. (National Archives Identifier 148035558)

During President Barack Obama’s last holiday season in the White House, he and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed Rabbi Steven Exler, Elijah Wiesel, and Shira Wiesel to light the menorah during a Hanukkah reception in the White House East Room.

Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House, 12/14/2016. (National Archives Identifier 178713550)

Happy Holidays!

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