Who was the first president to put up a Christmas tree in the White House?

First White House Christmas trees were decorated with candles 

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Thursday 24 December 2020 15:48 GMT
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Melania unveils her final White House Christmas decorations

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For decades, seeing the White House sparkling with 30 Christmas trees or more has become a common yet highly anticipated holiday tradition.

The most recognisable of the annual trees sits in the Blue Room, where the first family installs the official White House Christmas tree each year.

However, a tree in the White House wasn’t always the spectacle that it is today, as the first American presidents did not celebrate the holidays with a Christmas tree.

Who was the first US president to have a tree, and how has the tradition has evolved since?

While there are some conflicting reports, the White House Historical Association states that the first president to have a Christmas tree was Benjamin Harrison in 1889.

According to the historical association, the Christmas tree was placed upstairs in the Second Floor Oval Room, which at the time was used as a family parlour and library.

But, as it was still years before electricity made its way to the White House, reports state that the tree was decorated with candles to delight President Harrison’s grandchildren.

The Harrison administration’s decision to place a tree in the White House wasn’t permanent from that point on, however, as not all first families who followed decorated for the holidays with a Christmas tree.

The decision, according to the historical association, was often dependent on whether the current first family had young children or grandchildren – as well as whether the family planned to celebrate the holiday at the White House.

When did the White House Christmas tree start using electric lights?

In 1894, three years after electricity was installed at the White House, President Grover Cleveland reportedly decorated a Christmas tree with electric lights.

However, candles continued to be a beloved tradition, with the historical association reporting that President Franklin D Roosevelt and his family used them on their Christmas tree in the East Hall despite the fire hazard.

When did the White House Christmas tree move to the Blue Room?

President William H Taft became the first president to have a Christmas tree in a public portion of the White House, when his children put up a tree in the Blue Room during his presidency.

The tradition to place the official Christmas tree in the Blue Room was cemented by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, who chose the location for the tree each year.

Since 1966, the official White House tree has been selected from a competition held by the National Christmas Tree Association.

This year’s tree, an 18-and-a-half foot Fraser fir from West Virginia, has been decorated in the theme of Melania Trump’s choice, “America the Beautiful”.

Melania Trump poses with this year’s Christmas tree
Melania Trump poses with this year’s Christmas tree (Getty Images)

According to the White House, the tree “showcases the splendor of our country through the unique perspective of America’s children”, as it features student-made decorations depicting the “people, places, and things that capture the spirit of the state in which they call home”.

When did the tradition of the National Christmas Tree begin?

The trees situated in the White House are not the only trees worth visiting during a trip to the historic mansion, as the holiday season also sees the National Christmas Tree located on The Ellipse lit each year.

The National Christmas Tree lit up in 2020 
The National Christmas Tree lit up in 2020  (Getty Images)

The lighting of the tree first began in 1923 with President Calvin Coolidge, with first families continuing the tradition in a special ceremony to this day.

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