Presidential Christmas


Penelope Jasso

Christmas was not recognized as an official event at the White House until the 20th century. Presidential families embraced the Christmas spirit with feasts and gatherings, allowing the commencement of a national holiday.

The White House during holidays is a magical place for children. For years Christmas parties have been held for the president’s children and grandchildren. One of the most memorable celebrations was President Andrew Jackson’s in 1835. It included games, dancing, a feast, and ended with an indoor “snowball fight”, that used cotton balls in the place of snow. President Theodore and First Lady Edith Roosevelt hosted a Christmas carnival in 1903. 500 children were invited to dine, dance, and enjoy music.

The Roosevelts traditionally celebrated Christmas with gifts, church service, and a banquet, but they did not decorate a tree. In 1902, Archie Roosevelt snuck a small tree into the White House, he later revealed the decorated tree to his family, starting a new family tradition. 

Before the 20th century, the White House did not host Christmas events. Presidential families decorated using greens and gathered with loved ones. In 1889 the first official White House Christmas tree was put up. It was decorated with candles and toys and was placed in the Second Floor Oval Room. In 1923 President Calvin Coolidge presided over the first public celebration, with the lighting of the National Christmas tree. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter became the first president to light a menorah at a public event, after lighting the menorah outside Lafayette Square. Since then, the White House has held Christmas celebrations to share the joy of the season through decorations and public events .