9 Nostalgic Photos of the Best Past (and Present) White House Decorations
The 2019 White House holiday decorations are up—including the 90th official White House Christmas tree. See this year's tree along with our favorite decorations from years past.
The White House has seen nearly 100 years of public Christmas decoration celebrations. The first president to have a public lighting of a national Christmas tree was Calvin Coolidge in 1923, but First Lady Lou Henry Hoover is credited with first decorating an official tree inside the White House (she did it in 1929). Each year a tree decorated by the First Lady is displayed in the Blue Room and, thanks to Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961, every tree since has had a theme.
We’ve picked out our favorite holiday decorations from First Ladies past and present and sprinkled in a few nostalgic Christmas decorating ideas to help you to create your own First Lady-inspired tree. Once you've seen our favorite trees of the past, check out our editor's favorite modern Christmas tree ideas.
2019: The 90th Official White House Tree
This year marks the 90th year of the official White House Christmas tree, and the patriotic theme—officially titled 'The Spirit of America'—pays tribute to each of the 50 states. The Douglas fir tree stands 18 feet tall in the Blue Room and is decorated with 50 handmade paper flowers that replicate the floral symbol of each state. According to decorators at the White House, this year's decorations include 58 Christmas trees, more than 2,500 strands of lights, and more than 15,000 bows.
2016: Lego Christmas Decorations
The 2016 White House Christmas decoration display for the Obamas was themed “Gift of the Holidays.” It featured hallways with stacked gift boxes as Christmas decorations instead of trees and a large gift box sculpture outside the main White House doors. Our favorite part was these trees with small houses and village scenes made with LEGOs to represent each of the U.S. states and territories. A team of LEGO builders spent more than 500 hours designing the Christmas decorations for the White House, but you can make your own using premade sets like the LEGO City Advent Calendar, $44.98, Walmart, and the LEGO Christmas Carousel Set, $54.98, Walmart. To display at home, place a decorated tabletop tree on a table wide enough to accommodate your creation underneath.
2015: Patriotic Christmas Decor
Many White House trees have patriotic decoration themes. We liked the striking simplicity of this one. You can easily remake the Obamas' red, white, and blue Christmas tree at home by grouping similar colored ornaments together. We like the idea of creating these broad stripes with any Christmas color scheme for a standout Christmas style.
2005: Fresh Florals
First Lady Laura Bush's Christmas decorations included Christmas trees with real flowers in 2005. Decorators used glass vials wrapped with silver-coated wire to keep the flowers blooming. For those who like the aesthetic but not the extra effort, you’d probably prefer this gorgeous paper flower Christmas tree. Learn how to make your own paper flowers to get started.
2004: Snow-Covered Christmas Trees
Laura Bush often displayed trees dripping with fake snow—like these from 2004. We love the mix of cotton batting and "dripping" icicle ornaments that make these trees look like a real winter wonderland. Today you can get the same style with flocked Christmas trees.
1997: Handmade Christmas Decorations
The Clintons featured handmade Christmas decorations on their Santa’s Workshop-theme tree in 1997. On the tree is artwork from the National Needlework Association, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and glass artisans. That’s a lot of handcrafted ornaments! We’re all about crafting meaningful gifts for the holidays, but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate a good handmade ornament hack.
1993: Needlepoint Stockings
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton hung 15 mismatched needlepoint stockings across the mantel for Christmas in 1993. This is a great idea for families traveling for Christmas—bring your stockings (and stocking stuffers!) to the house you’ll be staying at and display one for each guest. You can even get personalized needlepoint stockings at an affordable price.
1987: The Reagans' Charitable Christmas Tree
Past White House Christmas trees tend to look more traditional. Nancy and Ronald Reagan had two of the four Sundback trees (the Sundbacks are the only family or company to have four trees chosen as the official White House tree). The Reagans decorated their 1987 tree with a musical theme, and the ornaments were made by Second Genesis, a drug treatment program in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Second Genesis decorated all of the Reagans' trees from 1982 on. If you can't find charitable Christmas ornaments that give back, try giving gifts that give back this year.
1961: The Kennedys' 'The Nutcracker' Tree
In 1961, the Kennedys set the tradition of themed holiday decorations. The Kennedys' Christmas tree was huge, covered in ornaments and candy canes just like many family trees. Their theme was The Nutcracker ballet, so many of the ornaments related to the ballet in some way. You can pick your own Christmas decorating theme centered around a movie or a broader topic like food or places. The Kennedys also draped a simple blue ribbon and added fake candles to the ends of branches.