History

12 Presidential Christmas Firsts

Is Christmas a day off from work? A solemn religious observance? An extravagant affair? A secular “holiday season”? Many of our expectations, attitudes, and ideals surrounding Christmas have been established or reflected by Presidents and First Ladies throughout history. Here are 12 famous firsts.

1856

Franklin Pierce brings a Christmas tree into the White House. There’s some dispute over whether this was officially a White House Christmas tree. See below.

1862

Abraham Lincoln pardons the turkey that was meant to be the main course at Christmas dinner

1870

Ulysses S. Grant declares Christmas a legal holiday

1889

Benjamin Harrison places a Christmas tree in the Second Floor Oval Room. Many consider this the first official White House Christmas tree.

1895

Grover Cleveland is the first to use electric Christmas lights on a presidential Christmas tree

image of Grover Cleveland's family Christmas tree in the White House

The Cleveland family Christmas tree

1903

Theodore Roosevelt bans Christmas trees from the White House, due to environmental conservation concerns. But his son smuggled one in and hid it in a sewing room closet.

1923

Calvin Coolidge lights a tree on the White House lawn

1928

Calvin Coolidge makes Christmas Eve a holiday for all federal employees

1953

Dwight Eisenhower sends the first official presidential Christmas card

image of Dwight Eisenhower's first White House Christmas card in 1953

The first White House Christmas card

1958

Dwight Eisenhower broadcasts a Christmas message from space via the first American satellite

1961

Jacqueline Kennedy starts the tradition of a decorative theme for the White House Christmas tree. (Her first theme was The Nutcracker”)

Image of John and Jacqueline Kennedy standing next to the 1962 White House Christmas tree

The 1962 White House Christmas tree had a Nutcracker theme

1993

The Clinton’s “holiday cards” do not mention the word “Christmas”