Saturday, November 28, 2009


The tradition of having a Christmas tree in the White House began 120 years ago in 1889 – Benjamin Harrison’s first Christmas there. The tradition has continued since then, though the details vary from year to year. The residents of the White House change. The decorations change. The people that handle the many, many details change. The species of tree, the location where it was grown and the people donating the tree change.

Yet some things stay the same – the awe inspired by the spectacular look of the White House decked out for the Christmas season, the festive atmosphere, the warmth and grace of the first ladies accepting the trees, and the incredible efforts of the White House staff to make the presentation of the tree special for the family donating it.

In 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association began donating the official White House Christmas tree. That first year, Howard Pierce of Wisconsin loaded up a Christmas tree and hauled it to Washington DC while President and Mrs. Johnson were away for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Over the years, the tradition has evolved into a festive ceremony with a Belgium horses pulling a tree-laden wagon up to the doors of the White House while the Marine band plays Christmas music and the First Lady looks on then accepts the tree on behalf of the American people.

The couple that presented the tree is year, Eric and Gloria Sundback, first donated the official White House Christmas tree 30 years ago. The honor of presenting the tree goes to the winners of NCTA’s national Christmas tree contest, which the Sundbacks have now won four times. In 1979, they presented a tree to First Lady Rosalynn Carter. In 1981 and 1987, they presented trees to Nancy Reagan. And this year, they presented the tree to Michelle Obama.

The Sundback’s noticed a few changes as well. For one, their family had changed. Grandchildren that were not yet born when they last presented a tree were in attendance.
Another difference they noticed was the media coverage of the event. Media covered the selection of the tree in October. Several camera crews went to the farm for the cutting and many more were at the presentation.
In a few days, the media will return to the White House to get the first glimpse of the Christmas magic woven by the skilled employees and volunteers of the White House. I can hardly wait to see what “our” tree looks like when it is decorated!

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