Christmas Past

The fascinating stories behind your favorite Christmas traditions

12 Presidential Christmas Firsts

image of Abraham Lincoln

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.


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.


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


Ulysses S. Grant declares Christmas a legal holiday


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


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


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.


Calvin Coolidge lights a tree on the White House lawn


Calvin Coolidge makes Christmas Eve a holiday for all federal employees


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


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


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


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

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