Christmas Trees in the White House

Christmas Trees in the White House

Two weeks ago the United States held its 58th quadrennial presidential election and on January 20th, 2017, president-elect Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated into office. Each year for the past 93 years, the President of the United States has decorated the White House with two real Christmas trees. One is outside for public display and the second is traditionally hosted in the Blue Room within the White House.

The White House serves as a backdrop for the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 16, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

The White House serves as a backdrop for the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 16, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy). Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Each year, the National Park Foundation and National Park Service present the National Christmas Tree Lighting outdoors at the White House. This tradition dates back to 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit a 48-foot fir tree decorated with 2,500 red, white, and green lights as a “quartet” from the U.S. Marine Corps Band performed. Although not every president since 1923 has lit a Christmas tree at the White House, many presidents have, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Truman, President Eisenhower, President Carter, President Reagan, President George W. Bush, and President Obama.

In 1963, President Lyndon Johnson delayed lighting the Christmas tree to respect the thirty days of mourning following the death of President John F. Kennedy on November 22nd. That year, the tree was lit on December 22nd.

Decorating the Tree

In 1954, a company called Hargrove, Inc., owned by Earl Hargrove, began decorating the National Christmas Tree. That year, there was a 60-foot-tall tree and the National Park Service erected several stories of staging to help them decorate it. At the time, however, stringed Christmas tree lights didn’t exist. According the National Park Service, Hargrove “manually installed sockets every foot on several hundred feet of wire and screwed in and tested every bulb. When a bulb became finicky, Hargrove would climb up and fix them in a Santa costume!” Hargrove, Inc. continues to decorate the National Christmas Tree at the White House.

Lighting the Tree

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, children began to help the President light the Christmas tree. In 1983, President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan recruited the help of seven-year-old Amy Bentham. National Park Service records show that “Amy had written to the ‘Make a Wish’ program, saying ‘The Christmas tree that lights up our country must be seen all the way to heaven. I would wish so much to help the President turn on those Christmas lights.’” Since then, several presidents have recruited children to help them light the tree.

Making Trees Energy Efficient

2007 was the first year the White House lit the National Christmas Tree with LED Christmas lights, making the tree more energy efficient. The 2008 National Christmas Tree was 50 percent more energy efficient than the previous year. In 2015, the White House honored the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016 with specially themed Christmas Tree.

Blue Room Tree

Every year since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) has presented the White House with its official Christmas Tree for display in the Blue Room. The NCTA holds a contest in which growers, industry experts, and consumers vote to choose the grower that will provide the White House with a Christmas Tree. The 2016 White House Christmas Tree, a 19-foot tall balsam fir, was selected on September 27th from Whispering Tree Farms in Oconto, Wisconsin. It’s considered a very high honor to be selected to supply the White House with a Christmas Tree.

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