Geek Trivia

Which First Lady Started The White House Tradition Of Themed Christmas Trees?

Edith Wilson
Jacqueline Kennedy
Dolly Madison
Lady Bird Johnson
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Answer: Jacqueline Kennedy

Historically, the Christmas decorations in the White House, trees included, were simply adorned according to the traditions of the time. In 1961, however, then First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began a now long-standing tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree.

The tree, placed in the Blue Room, was adorned with ornamental toys, birds, and angels modeled after Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s iconic holiday ballet The Nutcracker. The next year, the tree had a general theme of “childhood” and featured ornaments crafted by disabled and elderly Americans. In that way, the First Lady started not one, but two traditions: selecting a theme for the tree and using the tree as a way to link American citizens, often those in need or marginalized, to the holiday traditions at the White House.

In the ensuing years, the White House’s Christmas trees have sported a variety of themes with various groups contributing to them. In 1969, for example, Pat Nixon themed the tree with the flowers of America and had disabled workers in Florida make hand-crafted velvet and satin ornaments featuring the state flowers of all the U.S. states. For five of the eight years during her husband’s presidency, Nancy Reagan had the tree decorated with ornaments crafted by people in treatment at the Second Genesis drug-treatment program (a large and long-standing set of treatment facilities in the Maryland/Washington D.C. area). In 2001, Laura Bush selected the theme “Home for the Holidays” with artists from all the states crafting miniature versions of historic homes from their states to hang on the tree. In 2012, Michelle Obama themed the tree “Joy to All” and dedicated it to U.S. military members, veterans, and their families with ornaments created by children living on U.S. military bases around the world.

If you’re curious about other years or just want to take a focused stroll through White House history, one tree at a time, you can check out a half-century’s worth of trees here.

Image courtesy of the White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library/Wikimedia.