fueled by light

Every man who’s taken on the great and honorable responsibility of being the President of the United States of America has recognized Christmas in their own unique way. On December 25th, 1776, General George Washington led his army toward battle over the frozen Delaware River. As president, all subsequent Christmases were recognized with infamous four-day feasts and fox hunts.

But it wasn’t until 1923 that America had a proper National Christmas Tree ceremony.  

We have Morris Feiker to thank. In ’23, working as a press aide for U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, Feiker was trying to help the Society for Electrical Development encourage Americans to purchase Christmas lights. He suggested that if President Calvin Coolidge personally lit a Christmas tree on the grounds of the White House, it would have a positive effect on the public perception of Christmas lights and, ultimately, boost sales. 

Coolidge loved the idea.

We know that Middlebury College, located in Coolidge’s native Vermont, donated the first tree. And we know that balsam fir was planted in the Ellipse — also known as President’s Park. But a couple facts aren’t exactly clear. First, the height of the tree is said to have been anywhere between 35- and 60-feet. Secondly, it was adorned with somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 white, green and red electric bulbs.

What we know for sure is that on December 24th, 1923 at 5 PM, President Coolidge touched a button and illuminated the National Christmas Tree for the first time.

Thousands of people congregated to the park for the ceremony and it was broadcast nationally on the radio.

The National Christmas Tree is a living tree that can be found year-round in President’s Park. The traditional presidential lighting ceremony has been a point of patriotic pride for 95 years, and there have been some pretty interesting moments along the way. Let’s take a look:


    • 1941 — The National Christmas Tree is moved from the Ellipse to the South Lawn of the White House at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s personal request. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a surprise guest at the ceremony.
    • 1942 — For the first time in its history, the National Christmas Tree is not lit due to the need to security concerns and the need to conserve power.
    • 1946 — The tree lighting ceremony is televised for the first time.
    • 1948 to 1951 — President Truman uses a remote control to light the National Christmas Tree from his home in Independence, Missouri.
    • 1953 — The New York Times reports millions of Americans watch the ceremony on TV.
    • 1954 — The Ellipse is once again designated as the official site of the National Community Christmas Tree.
    • 1961 — President John F. Kennedy doesn’t light the tree because of a stroke suffered by his father. Instead, the tree is lit by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.
    • 1963 — A tree lighting ceremony was scheduled for December 18, but President Kennedy is assassinated on November 22. A 30-day period of national mourning delays the lighting of the National Christmas Tree until December 22. Newly named President Johnson lights the tree.
    • 1973 — Previously, the National Christmas Tree was a random, used tree, cut and shipped from various places around the country. But in ’73, the National Arborist Associations donates a 42-foot tall Colorado blue spruce from Shickshinny, Pennsylvania and the DNR plants it in the Ellipse.
    • 1977 — The Pennsylvania blue spruce is removed and used for the Yule log.  A Maryland resident donates a 34-foot tall blue spruce as its replacement.
    • 1978 — Due to severe rain and snow, as well as a January tornado that almost uproots the tree, the Maryland spruce ultimately succumbs to heavy root damage.
    • 1978 — Following a study to identify the ideal tree, one that can flourish in the climate of the nation’s capital, the National Parks Service selects yet another blue spruce from Pennsylvania, located at the home of Mr. and Mrs. William E. Myers of York.  
    • 1979 & 1980 — President Jimmy Carter says the National Christmas Tree will remain dark until American hostages in Iran are set free. Nothing but the star on top is lit.
    • 1981 to 1988 — Citing security concerns, President Ronald Reagan lights the National Christmas Tree via remote control from the East Room of the White House. The one exception comes in 1984, when First Lady Nancy Reagan lights the tree in the Ellipse.  
    • 1989 — President George H.W. Bush resumes the tradition of lighting the National Christmas Tree from a platform in the Ellipse.
    • 1994 — The National Park Service approves the first commercial sales of official National Christmas Tree merchandise, including a National Christmas Tree ornament and limited-edition Christmas card.
    • 1995 — The National Christmas Tree is powered by solar energy for the first time.
    • 2001 — The original gold, green, and red lighting scheme is changed to red, white, and blue with red garland in patriotic recognition of September 11.
    • 2002 — The National Christmas Tree incorporates light-emitting diodes — LEDs — as part of the lighting scheme.
    • 2007 — LED bulbs completely replace incandescent lights on the National Christmas Tree.
    • 2011 — On February 19, the trunk of the National Christmas snaps in a windstorm gusting up to 50 mph.
    • 2011 — On March 9, a blue spruce from New Jersey is planted.
    • 2012 — On May 5, the tree is declared dead by the National Park Service due to "transplant shock."
    Nat Tree Lg

    2017 National Christmas Tree

    The tree that lives on the Ellipse today was planted on October 27, 2012. It’s a magnificent Colorado blue spruce — this time hailing from Virginia.

    President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were accompanied by members of the first family at the 95th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting.

    There are 56 smaller trees surrounding the National Christmas Tree, each one displaying one-of-a-kind ornaments that represent every U.S. state and territory, as well as the District of Columbia.

    The National Park Service has cared for the White House grounds since 1933. President’s Park was officially included in the national park system in 1961.

    Whether you have a real Christmas tree or a less fussy — albeit less piney — synthetic alternative, all Americans are united by a mighty blue spruce on the grounds of the White House.

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