The White House is majestic every day of the year, but it becomes truly magical during the holidays—with or without a blanket of snow. The traditions, decorations, and festivities surrounding Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Day brighten the darkest days of winter and are the subject of this issue. We begin with a look at one of the more recent White House traditions, the annual Hanukkah receptions and the lighting of a menorah. White House Associate Curator Donna Hayashi-Smith presents the stories behind the special menorahs selected for their historical significance and lent to the White House for use each year. The arrival of the Blue Room Christmas tree by horse-drawn wagon is the ultimate signal that the holiday season has officially begun. It was President Benjamin Harrison who first adopted the practice of decorating an indoor Christmas tree at the White House, and Scott Harris takes us to the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, where a replica of that first tree, surrounded by toys, is found in the front parlor. For nearly a century the National Christmas Tree has been enjoyed by visitors to the White House neighborhood. Jonathan Pliska tells the story of two trees positioned precisely 100 feet inside the south fence by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to alternate as the National Tree. Since 1961, when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy chose to feature “Nutcracker” decorations on the Blue Room Christmas tree, countless themes, planned many months in advance, have been chosen by the first ladies for the decorations that embellish trees, halls, and State Rooms. Lauren McGwin takes us back to 1978, when First Lady Rosalynn Carter created a Victorian Christmas tree, while Claire Faulker remembers First Lady Laura Bush’s “Literary Christmas.” Some traditions, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s annual reading of A Christmas Carol, recounted in this issue by Rebecca Durgin, are unique to a single presidency. Others, such as presidential messages to the public, are more enduring. Nikki Pisha looks at the tradition of holiday greeting cards, while Claire Faulkner explores messages carried in print and over the airwaves and internet. Not all beloved traditions have survived. Margaret Strolle gives us a glimpse of the lines that once stretched for blocks to the president’s front door nearly every New Year’s Day from 1801 to 1932. Diplomats, members of the military, government officials, and the general public were welcomed into the White House and greeted by the president.
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