The Festive Evolution of White House Christmas Trees and Decor Over the Years, From Kennedy to Biden

Elaborate Christmas decorations, including a massive Christmas tree, have become a staple of White House end-of-year decor over the last 70 years.

The first Christmas tree in the White House dates back to 1889 when Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president of the U.S., decorated the tree with candles. Christmas trees, originating in Germany, gained popularity in the U.S. in 1850 but didn’t become a widespread tradition until an artificial tree was invented in the 1930s.

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Not every presidential family set up trees in the White House; it depended if they typically celebrated with a tree, had young kids or grandkids, and lived in the White House during the holidays.

The first Christmas tree lit by electric lights is believed to have been used by Grover Cleveland in 1894, three years after the White House got electricity.

First Lady Mamie Eisenhower established the tradition of setting up the tree in the Blue Room, which has been continued by every first lady, except when Patricia Nixon set her American flowers-themed tree up in the Entrance Hall. Jacqueline Kennedy created the tradition of the first lady choosing a theme for the White House Christmas tree in 1961.

Since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association has held a prestigious national competition to select the official White House Blue Room tree. The Obamas hold the record for the most Christmas trees displayed in the White House, with 62 in 2015, although the Trumps had 41 trees plus more than 40 topiary trees in 2018.

The Kennedys, 1961

Jacqeuline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy White House Christmas
Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy at the White House staff Christmas Party, Dec. 31, 1961, in Washington D.C.

When Jacqueline Kennedy launched the White House Christmas tree theme tradition, she selected the Nutcracker ballet as her decor inspiration. She covered the massive tree with decorations in the shape of toys, birds, angels and other characters from “The Nutcracker,” along with candy canes and a blue crepe paper ribbon wrapped around the tree. Senior citizens and disabled volunteers made the ornaments from across the country. She reused the decorations for her children’s Christmas tree in the Entrance Hall the following year.

The Johnsons, 1967

Lyndon Johnson, White House Christmas
Mrs. Lyndon Johnson standing in front of the White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room on Dec. 20, 1967.

Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson’s Blue Room Christmas trees were a colorful delight and featured strings of popcorn every year. Her 1967 tree, pictured here, also boasted tinsel, garlands of colorful paper flowers and silver bells, snowman, Santa Claus and Christmas tree cookie ornaments and silver glass balls and stars.

The Nixons, 1971

Pat Nixon, white house christmas
Pat Nixon decorating the White House Christmas tree in 1971.

Like the first ladies before her, Patricia Nixon reused and built upon her Christmas decorations each year. Her 1969 “American Flower Tree” in the North Entrance featured velvet and satin balls crafted by disabled workers in Florida, each representing the 50 states and their official flower. In 1970, she decorated the Blue Room tree with flower-themed ornaments, adding gold foil lace fans inspired by the Monroes’ Blue Room portraits, topping them all off with gold foil angels in the 1971 tree picture here.

The Carters, 1977

White House christmas, Rosalynn Carter, Jimmy Carter, Amy Carter
Rosalynn Carter, President Jimmy Carter and their daughter Amy in front of their Christmas tree in the Blue Room of the White House on Dec. 20, 1977.

Rosalynn Carter‘s tall and skinny 1977 Blue Room tree featured eggshell ornaments handmade by members of The ARC, the national association for people with developmental disabilities. The tree was also decorated with foil and milkweed and nut pods and featured a garland guarding the tree, velvet-rope style.

The Reagans, 1987

Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan White House christmas
President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan stand before the 1987 White House tree.

In 1987, Nancy Reagan went big with a massive Fraser fir for the Reagans’ sixth White House Christmas Tree. The huge tree glimmered with lights and gold and silver tinsel garland and was covered in music-themed decorations.

The Clintons, 1993

Hillary Rodham Clinton, white house christmas
Hillary Clinton in front of one of the White House Christmas trees on Dec. 12, 1993.

During her eight years as first lady, Hillary Clinton chose themes celebrating the country’s artistic communities. Her 1993 tree theme was “Year of the American Craft,” for which she asked artisans to make art and ornaments out of ceramics, fiber, glass, metal and wood. The tree also lights and strands of golden beads, a quilted tree skirt and a stocking for their cat Socks.

The Bushes, 2001

Laura Bush, white house christmas,
Laura Bush reads to 50 first-graders of Hoffman-Boston Elementary School on Dec. 10, 2001.

First Lady Laura Bush’s eight White House trees were the least colorful of the bunch, opting for understated holiday cheer with classic white, clear and silver decorations. Her first, in 2001, had a “Home for the Holidays” theme. The ornaments consisted of model replicas of historic homes and places of worship designed by artists from all fifty states plus Washington, D.C., and were paired with fluffy white faux snow, silver tinsel, golden pinecones and lights. Her 2001 holiday décor featured 49 trees in total.

The Bushes, 2008

White House Christmas, laura bush
Laura Bush’s official White House Christmas tree stands in the Blue Room of the White House on Dec. 3, 2008.

For their final Christmas tree in office in 2008, Laura Bush chose the theme “A Red, White and Blue Christmas.” It was inspired by letters to the White House suggesting the patriotic colors since 9/11. The 369 ornaments were created by American artists chosen by members of Congress.

The Obamas, 2009

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, White House christmas,
Michelle and Barack Obama pose in front of the official White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room of the White House on Dec. 6, 2009.

First Lady Michelle Obama wanted to include as many people from as many places and as many ways as possible in the White House Christmas decorations. For her first tree in 2009, she asked 60 community groups nationwide to help her upcycle 800 ornaments from previous administrations. The participants redecorated the ornaments with the theme of “Reflect, Rejoice, Renew” and paid tribute to landmarks like the Statute of Liberty, Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo and more.

The Obamas, 2012

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The Obamas’ official White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room on Nov. 28, 2012.

In 2010, Michelle Obama added a “Military Appreciation Tree” near the visitor’s entrance at the White House and began hosting military families to visit every Christmas season. The main Blue Room tree honored military families in the following two years. Her 2012 theme was “Joy to All.” The large Frasier fir featured ornaments made by children living on U.S. military bases across the globe, along with a garland that read “joining forces.”

The Trumps, 2017

White House Christmas, trumps
The Trumps’ official White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room at the White House on Nov. 27, 2017.

For Melania Trump’s first White House Tree, she chose “Time-Honored Traditions,” featuring glass ornaments with the seal of every state and territory and ribbons with each name. The tree glowed brightly with a plethora of white LED string lights embedded in it.

The Trumps, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 02: Christmas decorations are on display in the Grand Foyer at the White House December 2, 2019 in Washington, DC. The White House expects to host 100 open houses and more than 30,000 guests who will tour the topiary trees, architectural models of major U.S. cities, the Gold Star family tree and national monuments in gingerbread. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Christmas decorations on display in the Grand Foyer at the Trump White House on Dec. 2, 2019.

In 2019, Trump opted for a similar theme, “The Spirit of America,” featuring handmade flower ornaments representing every state and territory and paying tribute to the traditions and customs that make the country great.

The Bidens, 2021

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The Bidens’ official White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room of the White House on Nov. 29, 2021.

The first Biden White House tree in 2021 was covered in white doves featuring the state’s names, with a theme of “Gifts From the Heart.” For a modern first, the holiday White House offered interactive viewing experiences on Instagram, Google Maps and other online platforms.

The Bidens, 2022

white house christmas, bidens
Christmas decorations featuring the Biden family’s pets, Commander and Willow, are displayed in the Vermeil Room of the White House on Nov. 28, 2022.

Jill Biden chose the theme of “We the People” for the family’s second White House Christmas. The festive decorations in the Vermeil Room, pictured above, featured their dog Commander and cat Willow among presents, including ones read “Operation Gratitude,” a program that delivers care pages to American troops and military children.

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