A History of the Holiday Season at the White House

The holiday season at the White House has always been a happy, unifying time. Over the years, traditions have been made and unique celebrations were held, each done with their own Presidential twist. Here are some of those moments that the first families have cherished throughout history. 

An Indoor Snowball Fight - 1834

With a lack of a White Christmas, President Andrew Jackson made sure to make it up to his children by creating an elaborate indoor snowball fight. He fashioned the snowballs out of cotton balls and hosted a dinner with games and dancing.

A Christmas Carnival - 1903

President Theodore Roosevelt and his wife hosted a grand carnival in the White House for over 500 children in the area. They served the presidents’ favorite dessert, ice cream, in the shape of Santa Claus. The president was not fond of chopping down evergreen trees, so there was no official Christmas tree that year. However, his son sneaked one in anyway and hid it in a sewing closet.

First Themed Christmas - 1961

First lady Jackie Kennedy started the tradition of creating a theme for the decorations on the White House Christmas tree. She chose to use ornaments representing “The Nutcracker” and it became a favorite used by Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton.


First Lighting of the National Menorah - 1979

Before President Carter, Christmas was the primarily acknowledged holiday in the White House. In 1979, the President first lit the national menorah in Lafayette Park. Only in 1993, however, was a menorah first lit within the White House walls.


A Holiday Record - 1997

In 1997, President Bill Clinton set a record for the number of trees placed in the white house, with an impressive count of 36 evergreens. His holiday theme was “Santa’s Workshop”.

Simple Gifts - 2010

To celebrate the holidays in the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama picked a theme of “simple gifts”. Instead of focusing on material gifts, the Obama family encouraged communities around them to celebrated the loved ones in their lives. They followed their modest holiday approach by decorating wreaths with dried pomegranates, artichokes, and gourds, as well as cookie ornaments for the tree.


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