The true history of White House Christmas celebrations

Visitors stand in line to see a screen where White House merchandise is sold in Washington DC on December 23, 2013.

The Official White House Christmas Ornament was created to celebrate the life of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Bess Truman was First Lady when the Jefferson Family first had Christmas on the White House grounds. It was customary for first ladies to host the King of Thailand while her husband was abroad. After his return home, Truman arranged for her husband’s palace in Washington, DC to be the first stop on his annual Christmas tour of foreign countries.

Caroline Kennedy’s winter White House party was popular among Washington tourists at the time, but with a $1 admission, it cost more than an exhibition at the Smithsonian. She used the occasion to lobby President Kennedy to visit Prague’s rebuilt embassy; he traveled to Czechoslovakia in May 1961. The new U.S. Ambassador to Mexico was happy to host the president and the first lady.

After Trump’s election, Hillary Clinton made more than 1,000 holiday decorators stand in line for passes to her Christmas party. The Donald Trump White House has no plans to host a Christmas party.

People wait in line to see a screen where White House merchandise is sold in Washington DC on December 23, 2013.

Caroline Kennedy established Christmas Tree Lane in 1989 to allow Washington residents to see real live Christmas trees on the National Mall. This event marked the first White House Christmas tree outside of Washington, DC. The President announced it as “The Christmas of Lincoln.” It was so popular, FDR held a virtual tree-lighting ceremony live from his mansion in Hyde Park, New York.

In the early 1900s, the National Park Service used the Christmas Tree Lane program to provide paid public volunteer work, raising $67,000 for the Natl Park Service at the time. After it stopped running in 1969, the tradition was replaced by the White House Christmas card program.

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Caroline Kennedy hosted a ‘Gayle and Robin’ Christmas party at the White House in 2015 to honor Sen. Edward Kennedy’s widow. After several years without a Christmas party, President Clinton said the tradition could continue with his full support. Every year since 2013, the White House held a tree-lighting celebration complete with live music and other entertainment and candlelit wreaths placed on the fence posts surrounding the Truman Balcony. Caroline Kennedy’s 2016 event was a celebration of her father’s achievements.

The first two decades of annual charity events held at the White House often featured an Indigenous American representation, with sometimes extravagant costumes. This year’s event, though, featured only a Native American drum corps.

After a number of big public announcements in the office, members of the First Family are typically just starting to settle in for the holidays. Last year, Ivanka Trump arrived by helicopter on Christmas Eve in the Montana backcountry. When her official Christmas ornament was unveiled, it featured a polar bear with trump signs that The New York Times wrote “tastefully wrapped” and “was fashioned by a room service chef”.

The Annual White House Christmas Ornament is a gift from The White House Historical Association

Caroline Kennedy hosts a ‘Jason and Jason Christmas’ event in 2015.

This year’s official White House Christmas ornament, though, is a first.

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