White House Christmas Trees: Then and Now

The 2011 official White House Christmas Tree.
The 2011 official White House Christmas Tree.

The White House

has been decking the halls for Christmas since the mid 1850s, when President Franklin Pierce first brought a tree indoors for the holidays. In the 1890s, first lady Caroline Harrison helped decorate that year's tree, and a tradition was born.

The White House Christmas tree (in spite of the rumors, there are no generic "holiday" trees here) became official in 1929, during the Hoover administration, but it wasn't until the Kennedy administration that first ladies were charged with choosing an official decorating theme.

There's been a bit of controversy to go with all of the celebration: In 1899, Americans criticized President William McKinley for even having a tree, saying that it was "un-American" given the tradition's German origins. (The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that the letters protesting the government's "Christmas tree habit" also called it "arboreal infanticide.") In 1972, President Richard Nixon fanned the flames by using the atomic symbol of peace as a tree topper instead of a traditional star. And there's the nearly annual debate about whether the White House should stick with tradition, emphasize religion, or avoid religion altogether.

Official themes have ranged from the traditional (like the "Early American" decorations that Lady Bird Johnson chose three years in a row) to the trendy (Nancy Reagan's 1982 tree, which was covered in foil-paper cones and metallic snowflakes). Jacqueline Kennedy, Barbara Bush, and Hillary Clinton all had trees that featured "The Nutcracker Suite."

The 2011 tree came from Schroeder's Forevergreens in Wisconsin, a member of the National Christmas Tree Association, according to The White House. Forevergreens is one of 800 or so vendors that donates free, full-grown trees to military families as part of the Trees for Troops program, which makes it a perfect fit for this year's official theme, which honors military families.

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