• View of the White House's north side from Layfatte Park

    President's Park (White House)

    District of Columbia

There are park alerts in effect.
hide Alerts »
  • White House Visitor Center Rehabilitation and Closure Information

    The White House Visitor Center is closed for rehabilitation. A temporary visitor center is located near the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion, just west of the intersection of 15th and E streets, NW.

  • White House Fence Restoration and Sidewalk Closure

    The National Park Service is restoring the White House fence along Pennsylvania Avenue, portions of which are believed to date back to 1818. During this restoration work, sections of the White House sidewalk will be temporarily closed for public safety. More »

  • Construction Project Affecting the White House Sidewalk

    Due to a construction project, a portion of both the White House sidewalk and Pennsylvania Avenue near East Executive Avenue will be closed until April 2015.

Lighting of the National Christmas Tree History

National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection - Harpers Ferry Center

President Truman turns the switch to light the National Community Christmas Tree on December 24, 1945.  Edward Kelly of the National Captial Parks holds the switchbox while Brigadier General Gordon Young looks on.

NPS/Historic Photograph Collection, Harpers Ferry Center

How is the Tree Lit?
The Switchbox Connection

Did you ever wonder how presidents and other dignitaries actually light the tree? It's not quite as simple as plugging in a few strands of lights.

In 1923, President Coolidge pushed a button at the end of a long cord which was attached to batteries stored beneath the branches of the 1923 tree. By the mid-1930s, a formal 'switch' box was introduced. Occasionally fitted with a switch - sometimes fitted with a button - the box has been held by each succeeding President. An engraved plaque containing the participating President's names is placed and when filled, replaced on the box. Between tree lightings the box remains in the possession of the President's Park.

To learn more about the lighting ceremonies, browse by years at left. If you are interested in exploring details of the trees themselves, the individual pages are available for each tree.


History of the tree lightings to 2000 by C. L. Arbelbide.

About the author

C.L. Arbelbide is a librarian, author and historian who specializes in federal holiday history. She is an author of the children's book, The White House Easter Egg Roll that was published in 1997 by the White House Historical Association. Ms. Arbelbide also contributes articles on federal holidays to the National Archives journal, Prologue.


Did You Know?

James Buchanan, 15th President: 1857-1861

The only president that never married. The White House hostess was his niece, Harriet Lane. In 1819, Buchanan became engaged to Ann Coleman. A misunderstanding took place and their engagement was broken. A short time later, Ann died. Buchanan vowed he would never marry.