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?