With the 2020 White House Christmas decorations recently revealed, it’s the perfect time to revisit portraits through the years. The White House has always been an important beacon of Christmas cheer, and presidents and their families have chosen to celebrate the season in different ways. CELEB is taking a look at those different traditions and some of the Christmas presidential portraits in American history.
Early White House Christmas Traditions
The first White House tradition came into being in 1800, when John and Abigail Adams hosted the first White House Christmas party. From there, it became a yearly tradition to deck the people’s halls and share the festivity with the country.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent 12 years in office, and Christmas in the Roosevelt White House was a big deal. FDR had the trees decorated with read candles, and would always read Charles Dickens‘ A Christmas Carol aloud.
The first Christmas tree to be lit with electricity was in the White House of Grover Cleveland. Calvin Coolidge later adopted the aesthetic and hosted the first Tree Lighting Ceremony, which is now an indelible White House tradition.
In 1957, Dwight D Eisenhower’s White House was decorated with a record-holding 27 trees, reigning on that throne for 40 years before the Bill Clinton White House unseated the record in 1997.
In 1961, John F Kennedy Jr’s wife Jacqueline Kennedy was responsible for creating the tradition of themed decorations, a tradition which persists to this day.
Portraits of Family
Another tradition Americans often look forward to is the unveiling of the presidential Christmas portraits. Over the years, they’ve provided an snapshot into the holiday celebrations of our highest elected official and their family.
In the 1970’s, a family portrait with Ford along with wife Betty and daughter Susan provided a traditional and warm moment in the life of the Ford family.
Another famous image is of Jimmy Carter, wife Rosalynn, and daughter Amy. Posed in front of a White House tree, the little family beams in high 70’s fashion.
In the 1980’s, Ronald and Nancy Reagan‘s family portrait was a little more casual and made Americans feel as though the Reagan family could be someone from down the street. They also released a more traditional portrait of the president and his wife, smiling in front of a towering White House tree.
In the 1990’s, both the Bush administration and the Clinton administration opted to walk the line between traditional and casual. In the early 00’s, George W Bush took photos with wife Laura that conjured whimsy and fun, in a reflection of the president’s personality.
Barack Obama and wife Michelle Obama were known for portraits that embraced elegance, casualness, and Michelle’s signature American design fashion. Like many presidents before them, the Obamas welcomed children to the White House to take part in some of the most fun traditions.
Under outgoing president Donald Trump and Melania Trump, the portraits have seen a return to the more traditional and distant. In 2018, Trump was the source of public mockery for wearing a tuxedo for the official portrait that did not seem to fit well.
Presidential Portraits of the Future
While it’s hard to imagine what future fashion and tradition will hold for the White House, one thing is certain: the White House decorations and traditional portraits are a part of American culture. From the tree-lighting to the parties, the White House at Christmas is as close as America gets to the celebration of royalty. In 2020, with so much suffering and anxiety for so many households, an opportunity to see a place that is pristine, elegant, and looks a lot like years past has been a balm for a worried nation.