White House Christmas Traditions Over The Years

Many families have their own Christmas traditions, whether it's hanging stockings above a crackling fire or making sure Uncle Bob doesn't have one too many eggnogs again this year. But how about the families at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? The White House is filled with its own flavor of the holiday spirit, from its annual Christmas tree lighting to First Lady Michelle Obama's request that each member of the First Family perform a skit, poem, or song before receiving their gifts (apparently, the president has been known to sing a jingle or two for his). Here's a look at some former presidents' Christmas traditions.

Most First Family's holiday celebrations have started with the traditional Christmas tree and its annual lighting. The White House doors also normally open for both the public and officials to marvel at the decorations strewn throughout the president's home. Yet, each family has its take on these classic holiday gestures — while the Obamas generously host two Christmas receptions a day throughout all of December for visitors of the White House, they try to let their guests be the only ones to partake in the food.

But despite these traditions throughout all First Families, there is some variance to each one's style.

A "Technologically-Savvy" Christmas


Having had electricity introduced into the White House only four years earlier, First Lady Frances Cleveland was the pioneer in creating what she called a "technologically-savvy" Christmas after she strung Christmas lights on the White House tree. Their family was the first to use electric Christmas lights on their tree, an obvious staple for all First Families since.

The White House Christmas Card

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President Eisenhower and his wife were the first to enlist the help of Hallmark Cards in creating a White House Christmas card. Since this tradition began in 1953, each First Family has made its own, unique card to send to staffers, family, and friends.

A Fire Sparks A New Tradition

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President Hoover's unusual holiday tradition began in 1929, when an electrical fire in the West Wing broke out during a children's Christmas party. The party was cut short, but a year later, the Hoovers invited the same children back to the White House, and gave each a toy fire truck as a memento of the previous year's surprise event. They continued the tradition throughout the years in the White House.

A Boy's Club


The original First Lady, Martha Washington, had to adhere to the strict gender norms of the time, which included who she was able to invite to the family's White House Christmas parties. During Washington's presidency, it was tradition for Martha, being the only woman in attendance, to fill her home each year with the all-male Congress for a bountiful Christmas feast.

A Christmas Closet The Size Of A Room

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Many people have closets specified for hiding Christmas presents, but Eleanor Roosevelt needed an entire room. Her gift giving list included over 200 people, so though she originally began putting presents into her "Christmas Closet" by October of each year, she would spend the rest of the year wrapping the presents in the White House's storage room.

A Storybook Christmas

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In President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush's first Christmas at the White House, the couple decided to tie the holiday with their push for a higher national literacy level. The White House's Christmas trees were adorned with famous literary figures, and underneath each one were hundreds of books tied in ribbon. The Bushes still carry on their "Storybook Christmas" tradition today, celebrating it each year at the Bush Center.

Gifts For The White House Staffers

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First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, nicknamed "Mrs. Christmas" by her staff, was especially generous during the holidays. Despite the large number of White House staff members, which included cooks, gardeners, and maids, Eisenhower always invited each one to the prestigious family quarters for a personalized gift every Christmas.

The White House Through Candlelight

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The Nixons wanted to make the Christmas tour of the White House as interesting as possible for their guests, which included commonly long lines to get inside. To accommodate their guests, the Nixons did what they called their "Candlelight Tours" each Christmas, an extension of the original tour that included a walk-through of the White House at night, lit primarily by candles.