What are the White House Christmas traditions?

First Family celebrates Christmas with many trees and a gingerbread house 

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Thursday 24 December 2020 15:49
Melania unveils her final White House Christmas decorations

No matter who the current inhabitants of the White House, the winter months always mark a festive time at the home of the first family.

However, that doesn’t mean Christmas has always been the month-long, extravagant celebration that Americans have come to expect of the White House.

Rather, Christmas traditions of the first family have adapted, or come and gone, with everything from an indoor snowball fight to trees lit with candles all relics from the past.

These are some of the beloved White House Christmas traditions celebrated by the first family each year.

Many, many Christmas trees

As one of the most recognisable houses in the world, it should come as no surprise that citizens appreciate seeing the White House dotted with Christmas trees over the holiday period.

The tradition of a publicly placed tree first started with President William H Taft putting up a Christmas tree in the Blue Room, which has remained the location of the official White House Christmas tree ever since.

This year, the tree is an 18-and-a-half foot Fraser Fir from West Virginia.

But the official tree is far from the only Christmas tree in the mansion, as the number of Christmas trees placed around the White House has since grown into the dozens.

Jimmy Kimmel roasts Melania Trumps Christmas decorations in spoof video

According to the White House Historical Association, the Dwight Eisenhower administration previously held the record for the number of trees in the White House when they decorated 26 trees in 1959.

Multiple administrations have since broken the record, including the Obama administration, which used 62 trees in 2015, and the Trump administration in 2018, when the White House was decorated with 41 trees and more than 40 topiary trees in the East Colonnade.

A Christmas theme

The White House also focuses its yearly holiday decorating around a theme, a tradition first started by former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who chose the “Nutcracker Suite” for the theme of the Blue Room tree in 1961.

Jacqueline Kennedy introduced themes to the White House

During the Trump administration, Melania Trump has chosen the themes: “Time-Honored Traditions,” “American Treasures,” “The Spirit of America,” and most recently, “America the Beautiful”.

Eighteenth-century Neapolitan creche

Since 1967, the White House’s creche has been on display in the East Room of the White House.

The White House creche has been on display since 1967

It is now on display for its 53rd year.

The Gold Star Family Tree

The thousands of visitors to the White House over the holidays are first greeted with the Gold Star Family Tree, which is located in the East Wing.

Gold Star tree pays tribute to American heroes

The tree is decorated by the families of military members who have died while serving and acts as a tribute to American heroes and their loved ones.

Gingerbread house

One of the most beloved Christmas traditions is the creation and display of the White House gingerbread house.

The tradition first started in 1969, during the Nixon administration, with the candy house still displayed to this day in the State Dining Room.

The White House decorates with a gingerbread house each year

Typically, more than 100 pounds of dough are required to create the gingerbread house.

In 2019, the White House pastry team created the house using 200 pounds of gingerbread dough, 125 pounds of pastillage dough, 35 pounds of chocolate and 25 pounds of icing.

Menorah-lighting ceremony

Hanukkah is also celebrated by the first family each year with both a special menorah-lighting ceremony, started by President Jimmy Carter, and with menorah-lighting in the White House itself, which became popularised with President George W Bush in 2001.

The president watches as a menorah is lit 

President Bush was also the first president to host a Hanukkah party at the White House, which has since become a yearly tradition.

Christmas parties

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has announced it plans to uphold the tradition of hosting numerous Christmas parties at the White House.

The tradition first began with President John Adams in 1800 and will see the current president host as many as 20 holiday parties.

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