October 14, 2004
Christmas Tree Themes of our White House Artifact Bag
The purpose of this lesson is to provide students with the understanding of how the White
House Christmas Tree decorations represent the United States history/cultures and the
History of the White House Christmas Tree: In 1889, First Lady Caroline helped decorate
the tree branches with lit candles in the upstairs oval room. As our nation’s hostess, she
set the stage for what would eventually become a much loved holiday tradition of the
president’s wife to take charge of the tree decorations. In 1929, First Lady Lou Henry
Hoover was the one who started the as yet unbroken custom. She oversaw the decoration
of the first ‘official’ tree. Since that time, the honor of trimming the principal White
House Christmas tree has belonged to our first ladies.
1961 First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy She began the tradition of selecting a theme for the
official White House Christmas tree. She decorated a tree placed in the oval Blue Room
with ornamental toys, birds and angels modeled after Peter Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker
1962 First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy She reused these ornaments in 1962 for her
‘children’s’ theme tree. Set up in the North Entrance, this festive tree also featured
brightly wrapped packages, candy canes, gingerbread cookies and straw ornaments made
by disabled or senior citizen craftspeople throughout the United States.
1963 First Lady Claudia ‘Lady Bird’ Johnson The Lyndon B. Johnson Administration
began during a time of great uncertainty. In November 1963, the assassination of
President Kennedy had stunned America. New First Lady Claudia ‘Lady Bird’ Johnson
certainly felt a desire to help the nation heal. She chose comforting and nostalgic holiday
decor during her White House years.
1965 & 1966 First Lady Claudia ‘Lady Bird’ Johnson The Blue Room Christmas tree
was decorated in an early American theme. They featured thousands of small traditional
ornaments, including nuts, fruit, popcorn, dried seedpods, gingerbread cookies and wood
roses from Hawaii. A paper maché angel graced the top of the tree.
1967 First Lady Claudia ‘Lady Bird’ Johnson She added silver balls, silver stars and
round mirrors to the previous years’ ornaments.
1969 First Lady Patricia Nixon She did the theme ‘American Flower Tree’ that stood in
the North Entrance. For its decoration she arranged for disabled workers in Florida to
make velvet and satin balls featuring each state’s flower.
1970 First Lady Patricia Nixon In the Blue Room she added 53 ‘Monroe’ fans made by
disabled workers in New York.
1971 First Lady Patricia Nixon She added Gold foil angels to the trimmings
1972 First Lady Patricia Nixon She took her Christmas theme from two White House
collection paintings by Severin Roesen: Still Life with Fruit and Nature’s Bounty. The
tree featured 3,000 pastel satin finish balls, the state flower balls and 150 gold Federal
1973 First Lady Patricia Nixon She did a ‘gold’ theme tree honoring James Monroe,
who bought gilded tableware for the White House in 1817. Gold bead strings and balls
enhanced its natural beauty
1974 First Lady Betty Ford Handmade crafts set the theme for the Blue Room tree.
Emphasizing thrift and recycling, Mrs. Ford used ornaments made by Appalachian
women and senior citizen groups. Swags lined with patchwork encircled the tree.
1975 First Lady Betty Ford She kept this quaint feel in her ‘old-fashioned children’s
Christmas’ theme. Experts from Colonial Williamsburg adapted paper snowflakes,
acorns, dried fruits, pinecones, vegetables, straw, cookies and yarn into ornaments.
1976 First Lady Betty Ford She expressed the ‘love that is the spirit of Christmas’ by
trimming a Blue Room tree in a variety of entirely natural ornaments made by members
of the Garden Club of America.
1977 First Lady Rosalynn Carter. Her Blue Room tree featured painted milkweed pods,
nut pods, foil and eggshell ornaments made by members of the National Association for
1978 First Lady Rosalynn Carter She decided an ‘antique toy’ tree with Victorian dolls
and miniature furniture lent by the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum.
1979 First Lady Rosalynn Carter She honored American Folk Art of the Colonial period,
asking students of the Corcoran School of Art to create imaginary symbolism pieces from
balsa wood, fabric and dried flowers.
1980 First Lady Rosalynn Carter She revisited a Victorian theme with dolls, hats, fans,
tapestries and laces. First Lady Rosalynn Carter explored a variety of holiday themes in
her years at the White House.
1981 First Lady Nancy Reagan She chose the themes for eight White House Christmas’s.
Her official Blue Room tree was trimmed in ornaments lent by the Museum of American
1982 First Lady Nancy Reagan For all the following years, she arranged for the people of
Second Genesis, a drug treatment program in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, to help
decorate her trees. This year they made foil paper cones and metallic snowflakes.
1983 First Lady Nancy Reagan The 1982 foil paper cones and metallic snowflakes were
reused on a tree featuring old-fashioned toys lent by the Margaret Woodbury Strong
1984 First Lady Nancy Reagan Second Genesis fashioned ornaments out of plant
material to compliment natural pieces crafted by the Brandywine Museum in
1985 First Lady Nancy Reagan The Reagan’s Executive Residence staff and Second
Genesis made 1,500ornaments from holiday cards sent to President Reagan in 1984.
1986 First Lady Nancy Reagan The residence staff and Second Genesis worked together
for the next three holiday seasons. This year they made 15 soft-sculpture nursery rhyme
scenes and 100 geese for a ‘Mother Goose’ tree.
1987 First Lady Nancy Reagan For the ‘musical’ tree, they decorated miniature
instruments, notes and sheet music.
1988 First Lady Nancy Reagan White House carpenters made 300 wood candles for
Mrs. Reagan’s ‘old-fashioned’ tree, which reused hand-blown glass ornaments from the
Eisenhower Administration and the Nixon State flower balls from 1969.
1989 First Lady Barbara Bush She chose a theme of ‘family literacy’ for the Blue Room
tree. She had the Executive Residence staff create 80 soft-sculpture characters from
literature. Tiny books completed the motif.
1990 First Lady Barbara Bush She revisited ‘The Nutcracker’ with little porcelain
dancers. White House florists dressed the figurines, and a castle from the Land of Sweets
was constructed by White House craftspeople.
1991 First Lady Barbara Bush The Saintly Stitchers of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in
Houston, Texas, joined with the staff on the ‘needle work’ tree for this year. They created
a needlepoint village and 92 needlepoint figures for a wooden Noah’s Ark built by staff
1992 First Lady Barbara Bush For the tree theme of ‘Gift-Givers,’ White House florists
fashioned 88 different ‘gift-giving’ characters.
1993 First Lady Hillary Clinton Over her eight White House holiday seasons, First Lady
Hillary Clinton, showcased the talents of America’s artistic communities. Her ‘angels’
theme coincided with ‘The Year of American Craft,’ and the Blue Room tree was decked
in 7,000 fiber, ceramic, glass, metal and wood angel ornaments.
1994 First Lady Hillary Clinton She choose the theme ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’
tree displaying decorations by American art students.
1995 First Lady Hillary Clinton The theme ‘A Visit From St. Nicholas’ tree featured
pieces by architecture students and members of the American Institute of Architects.
Stockings by the American Needlepoint Guild and the Embroiderers Guild of America
also hung from its boughs.
1996 First Lady Hillary Clinton She had woodcraft artisans and professional ballet
companies help bring ‘The Nutcracker’ tree theme to life.
1997 First Lady Hillary Clinton Mrs. Clinton had the National Needlework Association
and the Council of Fashion Designers of American join with glass artisans on a ‘Santa’s
1998 First Lady Hillary Clinton She choose the theme ‘A Winter Wonderland’ and united
fabric artists from each state with the Knitting Guild of America and the Society of
1999 First Lady Hillary Clinton Doll makers created toy replicas of American historical
figures for the ‘Holiday Treasures at the White House’ tree.
2000 First Lady Hillary Clinton She selected ornaments from her past themes and
featured them on a ‘Holiday Reflections’ Blue Room tree.