The White House Christmas tree
Facts and history behind the Christmas trees in the White House.
December 14, 2016 - Author: Dixie Sandborn, Michigan State University Extension
There is a lot of science behind growing Christmas trees. It takes years of effort, tree management and good growing conditions to grow great Christmas trees. One of the most famous Christmas trees each year is the White House Christmas tree. So with all the science aside, here is a little about the 2017 White House tree and a brief history behind Christmas trees in the White House.
Since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association has hosted a contest for its’ members to find the perfect White House Christmas tree. Each year, the winning tree is presented to the White House to display in the Blue Room. Growers must first win their state or regional competitions to be considered for the national competition. It is an honor to be named National Grand Champion. This is the 51st year the National Christmas Tree Association has presented the official White House Christmas tree to the First Lady by a horse-drawn carriage.
A tree from Whispering Pines Tree Farm in Wisconsin’s Door County was handpicked by several White House officials as the 2017 National Grand Champion. These officials included Angella Reid, White House Chief Usher; Dale Haney, White House Superintendent of Grounds; Olivia O'Neil from the White House Visitors Office; and Jim Adams with the National Park Service. Due to the Wisconsin weather conditions this season, the Whispering Pines Tree Farm winning tree was not quite tall or full enough in time. Instead, an alternate 19-foot Douglas fir from Pennsylvania took its place, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. The Wisconsin tree will still be on display in the White House Garden Room.
Here are a few facts about the official White House Christmas tree:
- President Franklin Peirce is said to have had the first Christmas tree in the White House during the 1850s.
- An 1880 reference says President John Tyler hosted a children's party in the 19840s, at which there was a Christmas tree with gifts.
- Another claim to the first Christmas tree in the White House was during President Benjamin Harrison's administration in 1888 or 1889. It was decorated with candles and toys for the Harrison grandchildren.
- In 1899, Christmas trees were banned from the White House because of the origins of Christmas trees from Germany. At least one tree was displayed in the White House that year, in the kitchen department for the maids.
- The first president to light the White House Christmas tree was President Calvin Coolidge on Dec. 24, 1923. Coolidge pressed a button to light up the White House Christmas tree and the tradition carried on ever since.
- The 1923 tree was the first Christmas tree to be decorated with electric lights, with strands of 2,500 red, white and blue bulbs.
- First Lady Lou Henry Hoover began the tradition of presidential wives decorating the White House tree with the first “official” tree in 1929.
- The White House Christmas tree has been displayed in the Blue Room many times since 1961. It has also occasionally been displayed in the Entrance Hall.
- Since 1961, the tree has a themed motif at the discretion of the First Lady. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme by decorating with a Nutcracker motif.
- The White House Christmas tree is selected from various growers nationwide. Growers in North Carolina have provided 11 trees, more than any other state.
- As of 2011, Washington and Wisconsin share the second highest total of trees provided for the White House with seven.
- Generally, there is more than one Christmas tree in and around the White House. For instance, in 1997 there were 36, and in 2008 there were 27.
- Traditionally, the tree in the Blue Room is the official White House Christmas tree.
- The White House Christmas tree usually stands nearly 20 feet tall.
- The crystal chandelier in the Blue Room must be removed for the tree to fit the room. The official tree is known as the Blue Room Christmas Tree.
For more information on Christmas trees from Michigan State University Extension, check out the following articles:
- Buying your first farm-grown Christmas tree
- Choosing the right Christmas tree
- Living Christmas trees: Another real tree option
- Why is my Christmas tree beginning to grow?
- Water is the essential ingredient in keeping your farm-grown Christmas tree fresh
Other articles in series
- Christmas trees and the science behind them
- Real Christmas trees: History, facts and environmental impacts
- How did evergreen trees become a symbol for Christmas?