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.
History of the National Christmas Tree
A Brief History of the National Christmas Tree
Library of Congress (National Photo Company Collection, Prints & Photographs), LC-F81-28049.
In November 1923, First Lady Grace Coolidge gave permission for the District of Columbia Public Schools to erect a Christmas tree on the Ellipse south of the White House. The organizers named the tree the "National Christmas Tree."
That Christmas Eve, at 5 pm, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse and "pushed the button" to light the cut 48-foot Balsam fir, as 3,000 enthusiastic spectators looked on. The tree, donated by Middlebury College, was from the President's native state of Vermont.
From 1924 to 1953 live trees, in various locations around and on the White House grounds, were lit on Christmas Eve. In 1954 the ceremony returned to the Ellipse and expanded its focus. Local civic and business groups created the Christmas Pageant of Peace. Smaller live trees representing the 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, formed a Pathway of Peace.
On December 17, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower lit the cut tree donated by the people of Michigan. Cut trees continued to be used until 1973.
Central to the season's celebration is the living National Christmas Tree, a Colorado blue spruce from a tree farm in New Jersey. Planted on the Ellipse on March 19, 2011, this tree replaces another Colorado blue spruce from York, Pennsylvania that was put on the Ellipse in October 1978 but felled by a wind storm in February 2011.
Today, the National Christmas Tree stands as a daily reminder of the holiday spirit and of the tradition each succeeding President has participated in since 1923.
Explore the history of both past National Christmas Trees and the festivities that have taken place around the trees by following the links to the right on this page.
-by C.L. Arbelbide
(ST, ed. 1/12)
Did You Know?
Benjamin Harrison was the only president to be a grandson of a president (William Henry Harrison) and great-grandson to a signer of the Declaration of Independence (Benjamin Harrison).