Theodore Roosevelt loved Christmas and all of its traditions. Well, most of them!! Legend has it that one tradition he did not like was cutting down live trees and decorating them with Christmas ornaments. And he refuesed to have a Christmas tree in the White House. After all he was a conservationist and this tradition was destroying live trees! As it would happen, many newspapers of the day were publishing articles suggesting the use of “wire” trees as a new way of realizing the tradition without destroying any of nature’s beauty. The number of citizens opposing the use of live trees for the tradition was growing. They were concerned about the impact the tradition had on forests, the destructive methods used to harvest the trees and the overall perceived wastefulness of the practice.
Luckily the tradition of having a Christmas tree on the State Floor in the White House had not been established yet. This tradition didn’t come to life until 1929 with First Lady Lou Hoover (wife of President Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States). Thereafter, part of the First Lady’s role became to create the official Christmas tree for the White House standing in the Blue Room. Today, First Ladies generally select a theme for the official White House Christmas trees. This tradition was begun by First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, whose theme for the Christmas of 1961 was the story of The Nutcracker.
The rest of the Theodore Roosevelt Christmas tree legend has it that the Roosevelt children were not so thrilled with their father’s refusal to have a family Christmas tree. So, one Christmas (1902) they set about to change things. Archie and Quentin, the two youngest Roosevelt children, cut down a small tree growing on the White House grounds and hid it in one of the closets upstairs in the White House. They then hung gifts for the family and tiny lights on the branches. With help from some of the White House staff, the lights were wired so that when the boys triggered them, they would come alive!
Well, I’m sure you can imagine what happened next! Not everyone in the Roosevelt Family was happy with this, not happy at all!
(I have to confess that I’m not sure if President Roosevelt actually banned trees from the White House because of his environmental concerns or if this has just become a legend because of his acknowledged passion as a conservationist. My research is incomplete on this.)
One contribution Theodore Roosevelt did make to Christmas traditions was in the form of a favorite Christmas gift --- the Teddy Bear. While on an expedition the president refused to kill a bear cub. A famous toy manufacturer learned of this story and created the teddy bear. This special bear became a highly sought-after toy during the Christmas of 1902.
Bonus Story: For the Christmas of 1903 President and Mrs. Roosevelt hosted a "carnival" for 500 children. The festivities included dinner, dancing, musical entertainment, souvenirs, and a special treat in the form of ice cream formed in the shape of Santa and other Christmas novelties. We don’t know if there was a Christmas tree in the White House that year.
Resources Used for This Article:
For information about earlier celebrations of Christmas and how they evolved into our celebrations today ---
For a look at Theodore Roosevelt’s copy of Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit From Saint Nicholas, published in 1862 ---