"The first National Christmas Tree," lit on December 24, 1923, in the middle of the Ellipse. The Washington Monument is seen in the background.
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
In November 1923, a letter arrived at the White House, from the District of Columbia Public Schools, proposing a lighted Christmas tree be erected on the South Lawn of the White House - hopefully creating a Winter event similar to the White House Easter Egg Roll an event of "national character" which occurred each Spring.
First Lady Grace Coolidge, having arranged for a Christmas sing on the North Lawn of the White House and not wanting two events on White House grounds gave permission to erect a cut Christmas tree on the Ellipse, south of the White House. Organizers promoted the tree as the "National Christmas Tree." To add to the "national" appeal, President Calvin Coolidge was invited to participate. On December 24 at 5 p.m., the President walked from the Oval Office to the Ellipse, and pushed the button to light the tree, a gift to the President from Middlebury College in the President's native state of Vermont.
That evening a marathon of activities ensued. Citizens returned to the tree at 7 p.m. for a choral concert and performance by the "President's Own" Marine Band quartet. At 9 p.m. citizens headed to the North Lawn for Mrs. Coolidge's carol sing. At midnight it was back to the Ellipse where a sing was under way as a reenactment of the wise men's journey was being acted out at the nearby Washington Monument.
by C.L. Arbelbide
January 6, 2001