Snowball Fights, Elaborate Décor and Cherished Family Memories: A Timeline of Holiday Traditions at the White House

Author: Alli Jean, Current Events/Politics

It has arguably been the most contentious, tumultuous and divided year in recent history for American politics. At this time of year, let’s put partisanship and hatred aside. So pop that champagne, spin the Dreidel and reflect on the White House Holiday traditions and rituals that can unite us, rather than keep us apart. What follows is a brief history of the highlights of holiday traditions celebrated in Washington, D.C.

1800, First White House Christmas Party:

“President and Mrs. Adams gave it for their four-year-old granddaughter Suzannah, who was living with them. The Adams’ invited the children of “official” Washington to the party.”

1834, An Indoor Snowball Fight:

President Andrew Jackson threw an elaborate Christmas party for his children and grandchildren. “It included games, dancing, a grand dinner and culminated in an indoor ‘snowball fight’ with specially fashioned cotton balls.”

1889, The First Tree:

“Prior to the 20th century, Christmas at the White House was celebrated privately. The first White House Christmas tree, pre-electricity, was decorated with candles and toys and placed in President Benjamin Harrison’s living quarters.”

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1894, First Christmas Lights:

“The first electric lights on a family tree were used during the presidency of Grover Cleveland. (Electricity dates to 1891 in the White House).”

1903, A ‘Green’ Christmas:

“Noted conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt didn’t believe in cutting down trees for Christmas decorations. Instead, he threw a carnival for 500 children complete with dinner, dancing, souvenirs and Santa-shaped ice cream. However, Roosevelt’s son Archie defied the Christmas tree ban and smuggled a small tree into an upstairs sewing room.”

1909, A ‘Blue’ Christmas:

“President William H. Taft was the first president to have a tree in the public portion of the White House. His children helped him decorate that first tree in the Blue Room. Today, the Blue Room still hosts the official tree (one of many trees in the White House) and many presidents and their families have posed in front of it for their official Christmas photo.”

1923, A National Tree:

“President Calvin Coolidge expanded the celebration beyond the Blue Room with the lighting of the first National Christmas Tree, located outside the White House in a public viewing area.” See this year’s lighting here:

1929, First Official Decorated Christmas Tree:

“First Lady Lou Henry Hoover established the custom of decorating an official tree in the White House. Since that time, the honor of trimming the Christmas tree on the state floor has belonged to our first ladies. The tree stands in the oval Blue Room, an elegant space honored as the center of holiday splendor.

1954, Pageant of Peace:

The celebration started by Calvin Coolidge became the month-long Pageant of Peace following World War II and the Korean War as a way to commemorate the end of the wars. Today, the lighting of the National Christmas Tree and the Pageant of Peace on the White House Ellipse is the centerpiece of the holidays in Washington, DC. The First Family officially lights the National Tree and National Menorah in special ceremonies. Throughout the month, visitors can enjoy nightly musical entertainment, visit Santa’s Workshop and explore the mini-Christmas trees each featuring homemade ornaments from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

1961, Themes

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“First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy started the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree.” That year the tree was decorated with ornamental toys, birds, angels and characters from the “Nutcracker Suite” ballet. “For the American Flowers Tree in 1969, First Lady Patricia Nixon arranged for disabled workers in Florida to make velvet and satin balls featuring each states official flower.”

Over her eight White House holiday seasons, First Lady Hillary Clinton showcased the talents of America’s artistic communities.

First Lady Laura Bush varied the decorations, including the themes of “All Creatures Grand and Small in 2002” highlighting her love of animals and the importance of pets to White House history and a patriotic “A Red, White and Blue Christmas” in 2008.” “The theme had been inspired by letters from Americans that began arriving after September 11th suggesting the White House have a red, white and blue Christmas.”

First Lady Michelle Obama announced the 2010 White House Christmas theme of ‘Simple Gifts’ and she explained, ‘The greatest blessings of all are the ones that don’t cost a thing: the time that we spend with our loved ones, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans and the joy we feel from reaching out to those in need.'”

1979, The First National Menorah:

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“President Jimmy Carter was the first to officially recognize the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah when he lit the nation’s first official Menorah. Today, the presidential lighting ceremony continues and the National Menorah is part of the Pageant of Peace.”

1995, A Chocolate Christmas:

“A highlight of the holiday decorations has become the white chocolate replica of the White House. A tradition since the 1960s, today visitors will find this delicious architectural feat, which can weigh up to 300 pounds and take months to create, displayed in the State Dining Room. In 1995, the White House pastry chef also created a replica of First Lady Hillary Clinton’s girlhood home on Wisner Street in Park Ridge, Illinois. No detail was left unturned, including tiny stocking hung by the chimney with care.”


Planning to visit the Nation’s Capital This Holiday Season?

For more information on holidays at the White House and how you can see the decorations, visit www.whitehouse.gov/holidays.

For more information on visiting the National Christmas Tree and the Pageant of Peace, visit www.thenationaltree.org.

Looking for more fun things to do in the nation’s capital this holiday season? Check out this guide to winter holidays for more travel ideas!

‘Tis the Season for Bills: A Chat About Holiday Debt With a Finance Industry Expert

Adulting, Author: Mary Grace Donaldson

Our Monthly Chat series continues — and our industry expert of choice this month brings us some highly topical information!

One in four Americans planned on racking up holiday debt in 2016. These stats aren’t specific to millennials, but that’s not to say we aren’t included in that one in four. While our Finance Cheat Sheet is helpful in this arena, we’ve also chatted with Albert Ramos, CEO and Founder of Educate Your Pockets, LLC, a new website that specializes in financial management. Here’s what he had to say about holiday debt, how you can stay out of it, or, how you can find your way out of it:

What is your best advice for millennials looking to stay out of holiday debt?

Make sure every dollar has a purpose and pay with cash. When you write (or type) down a budget for your holidays, you’re more likely to stick to it. And if you’re going to pay for something, pay with cash that you have –- if you don’t have it, then it doesn’t fit within your budget. Don’t let the worries of finding the “best” gifts, or holiday shopping ruin your progress towards achieving your financial goals.

Also, I always meet with my clients before the holidays to go over their New Year’s goals or “resolutions” – – this puts them in the mindset of what they cannot do during the holidays if they want to start the year off right with their money. They remember: no holiday hangovers this year or regretting the “travel-on-a-credit-card” (check out my blog post on this topic).

How do most millennials even get into holiday debt?

From my experience, the top reason why millennials get into holiday debt is that they use credit cards and spend money they don’t have. Holidays are so amazing, fun, festive and tasty, and the season is always a great time of year. However, every year the pressures of holiday shopping (Cyber Monday, Black Friday, the “Christmas Deal” that lasts two weeks or more) continue to increase, and millennials get really stressed out about finding the best gift or deal…..and unfortunately, pull out their plastic (credit) to fund and satisfy those worries, stresses and pressures. Without a plan, it’s easy to stray and not stay disciplined.

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Do credit cards help or hinder millennials in their spending and finance management?

Such a great question – and there are two differing philosophies here. Some may say that credit cards are fine because they help you build credit. True – my counter, however, is that your credit score is your relationship with debt.

Credit card companies are not aggressive in ad spend and direct mail to “help you” pay for all the things you want now. Credit card companies and banks are in the business of making money – they make millions and millions of dollars from millennials spending money they don’t have, including the interest that they initially thought they’d never have to pay (“I always payoff my credit card each month”….). And if you’re like most people, unfortunately, your constant spending with “free money” catches up to you when that spending you couldn’t afford starts to build up and gets out of control due to interest payments compounding.

I truly believe that sticking to a solid cash plan, building your savings and investments, eliminating debt and working hard to increase your income (salary) is the way to go. If you have trouble doing that, use your debit card rather than credit card, go old school…do the cash envelope diet. Sounds archaic, but it totally works.

What do you see millennials doing “wrong” in the arena of budgeting – for the holidays, and all year round?

Couple of things: not creating a specific and realistic plan (every dollar must have a purpose and you need to know where it goes; and the plan must be realistic depending on your situation – – if you keep the budget unrealistically tight, you’ll end up going over budget which influences many to rationalize more overspend). Second thing, focus and follow-up. Focus and follow-up are two very important variables to building wealth and sticking to your budget. Millennials should have their budgets visible when making holiday purchases. It will reinforce behaviors that will allow them to stick to it. Staying within budget and finding those great deals on gifts you really wanted to get is great!

Oh no! You’ve found yourself in debt. Now, how do we get out of it?”

It happens. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. It’s the unfortunate reality for our generation – we have too much debt. But it’s okay – if you create a plan to get out of debt it’s totally achievable – but you must make it a priority. Debt not only sneaks up on you if you’re not paying attention, but it loves to grow. Create a short-term and long-term plan to payoff your debts (credit cards, student loans, etc.), starting with the smallest one first. You want some quick wins, similar to those pounds you want to lose right away when working out hard – it feels good, and stimulates those endorphins.

First take out the small loans, and once you don’t have any payments left for those, use what you would have normally paid for those on the bigger loans and get rid of it fast. Now, you may have to also make some sacrifices on current things you spend on. 6-12 months of sacrifice so you can live debt free, travel the world and start your large savings/investment account feels so much better. Trust me – check out my blog on #TheDebtDiet. I highly recommend if you’re in any type of debt, get started on my Debt-Free Program – – I know a ton of millennials that have started and are feeling more confident about their money than ever before.

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Are there any apps out there that can help millennials budget while making sure they pay their post-holiday bills?

There are some great apps out there, tons that are free on your mobile device. I personally provide your very own personal financial website that does this all for you when you get started with an Educate Your Pockets Program – in which I personally look at it every morning for you to make sure you’re following your plan. Very similar to a virtual personal trainer, I’m your virtual financial assistant in your pocket.

Are there any other resources out there, such as Twitter accounts to follow or podcasts to listen to, that you would recommend?

Definitely check out my Instagram @EducateYourPockets–I do a morning daily Instagram Live show called #DailyPockets where I answer financial questions that people email me about on my website. I also do a Facebook Live chat @EducateYourPockets where I do a similar Q&A on Friday nights for those that need an extra reminder before having fun on the weekends.

The Educate Your Pockets Podcast will be coming out in a few weeks, so look out for that, I’ll also be launching it with my new eBook #RetireAndChill ……this will be a fun and simple guide for millennials to start investing in a retirement plan like a Roth IRA, Traditional IRA, and/or 401(k). I can’t wait! Millennials are going to love it! I love tweeting financial tips on my Twitter @EYPFinance and make sure to Snap me at “pocketseyp” where you’ll be able to see more of my personal life and watch me interact with other millennials that hire me to help them achieve financial success.

Albert Ramos, Founder and CEO of Educate Your Pockets, LLC, received his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Occidental College and his MBA in Finance from the University of Redlands. With over ten years of experience in Management, including being responsible for annual budgets exceeding $50M, Ramos offers clients diverse experience and education within the financial sector. For more information on how you can work with Educate Your Pockets, LLC, please e-mail albertramos@educateyourpockets.com or call (909) 580-7232.

How We Celebrate

Author: Alli Jean, Author: Danny Abriano, Author: Kerrin Frappier, Author: Mary Grace Donaldson, Author: Michelle Ioannou, Real Life Stories

I’m Catholic, Italian and Irish. Christmas is quite the big deal to both my mom’s family and to my dad’s family – as it has been to me for my whole life. As there’s so much that I could talk about here, I’ll keep it to what we do on my favorite day of the whole year – Christmas Eve.

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Photo courtesy of ShoreNewsToday.com

On Christmas Eve, my parents, my grandma and I — and whoever else is around — will usually partake in the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, but a modified version as I don’t eat much fish. It is customary for Italian families not to eat meat on Christmas Eve — hence all of the fish. Because it isn’t an Italian holiday meal if there isn’t too much food around, we’ll order Sicilian pizza as a nod to my mom’s uncle, who used to make pizza on Christmas Eve when my mom was young.

When I was younger, we’d all head to Midnight Mass where I would sing with the choir. Nowadays (this year included) I’ll lead the music at an earlier Mass that my family will attend, but I’ll still sing with the choir at Midnight. Midnight Mass is truly special – we sing fan favorites including O Come, All Ye Faithful as well as the beloved Halleluiah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

I usually get home in the 2 a.m. hour once my parents and grandma have fallen asleep. I’ll make a big mug of hot chocolate, put on my Christmas pajamas – and, of course, turn on 24 hours of A Christmas Story and try to fall asleep. – Mary Grace


To be quite honest, I almost didn’t contribute to this collaboration, but #NAMB is about sharing our stories, and here’s my Christmas one.

My father passed away in 2009, making this my eighth Christmas without him….and I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t gotten much easier. There’s still this huge void I can feel while opening presents on Christmas morning, and honestly, I’m not sure that void will ever go away.

Christmas is a difficult time for many of us who are missing loved ones. They should be with us, sitting with us, opening gifts. My dad should be here making jokes about how much money I cost him this Christmas, and I should be gifting him with more sports memorabilia or ridiculous Star Wars ties and socks.

But that’s not the case. But, it’s still Christmas — a time for love and family — and I’m so fortunate to have a big fat Greek family that I get to spend Christmas Day with. It’s extremely loud and chaotic but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s filled with laughs, and food, and wine, and love.

For those of you who will be with loved ones this Christmas, cherish it. We don’t realize how lucky we are. – Michelle


While the rituals and festive pastimes in my family have changed over time, a tradition started about ten years ago is not only my favorite Christmas tradition, but has become one of my favorite days of the entire year: annual wreath-making day.

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On the first Saturday of December each year, my mom, younger sister and I go with my mom’s work friends to a small farm on Cape Cod, where we hand-make Christmas wreaths. The farm has a small barn, and every year when I walk in, I feel like the Christmas season has truly begun. Everyone gathers around a huge table covered with boxes and boxes of cut up Christmas pine, white birch, juniper, holly and countless other winter greens.

With Christmas carols playing, and the sense of humor of a large group of nurses abundant, laughter and whimsy fill the air as the wreaths take shape. Then the decorating commences. Many in our group make traditional classic wreaths, while others get creative with bright colors and leopard bows.

Part of the fun is seeing what decorations and ribbon choices are on hand each year as we hot-glue and decorate away. Patty, the woman who runs the class along with her family members, is there to aide us every step of the way, and they always provide delicious casseroles and snacks for us.

Besides my astonishment at how beautiful the wreaths are each year, this tradition is so special because even though getting together around the holidays is more cumbersome each year with so many people to visit, work schedules, and when this first started, either me or my sister having college finals in December, it is one day a year I treasure because it is time spent with my mom and my sister. – Alli


Christmas has always been interesting for me, though that might not be the most apt word to describe it.

My parents broke up when I was five years old, so I used to split the holiday — Christmas Eve with my dad’s side of the family and Christmas with my mom’s side.

There was actually one Christmas morning when I was about seven years old when my father pulled up to my mom’s house and literally made me decide while standing in the middle of the street who to spend the day with. That was fun!

But I digress…

After my grandparents on my father’s side (and aunt and uncle) passed away, we started to combine the holiday — my parents are still very much broken up, but have become good friends.

This year, though, my aunt on my mom’s side (who used to host Christmas every year) decided hosting was too much for her — she has a special-needs son and all of the planning and cooking just got to be too crazy.

So, Christmas Eve this year might not happen. Christmas Day will probably be a tiny gathering at my brother’s house. And the actual Christmas celebration? That will be at a random restaurant in New Jersey on December 26 — so cue up your A Christmas Story comparisons!

Seriously, though, while Christmas isn’t the fun, over the top spectacle it used to be, I’ll still be with the people who matter the most. And that’s the important thing. – Danny


Thanks to the good people at TBS, every Christmas Eve my sister and I watch A Christmas Story. Sometimes we arrive home from my Nana’s house and it is already part way through, but we try our best to stay up until we’ve watched the remaining scenes and then, the beginning portion we missed.

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The next day, after a hectic morning of tearing up miles of wrapping paper, my sister and I take a ride to the house my mother’s parents lived in when we were children. The trip is short -just across town–and we always sing along to our favorite carols playing on the radio.

While the house has been sold two times since my grandfather retired and my grandmother passed away almost ten years ago, my sister and I drive by every Christmas morning. Sometimes, it makes me long for the days when my whole family was together and all I wanted was a pair of ruby slippers under the tree. But mostly, seeing the house that holds so many precious holiday memories makes me feel a little bit closer to my grandparents on one of their favorite days of the year. — Kerrin

Holiday Cookie Recipes

Adulting, Author: Claire Greene

Christmas is a special time of year, and the time we throw our diets out the window. A quick Google search will bring up numerous websites designed solely to help those individuals who have a bit too much of a sweet tooth around the holidays. One barely has to walk out the door before they are bombarded with hot cocoa, candy, Christmas cookies, and of course, candy canes.

Many of us, myself included, cannot resist the temptation. This article is for those people. Here are three great holiday cookie recipes.

Kris Kringle Cookies

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Photo courtesy of FTD.com

This recipe is a more in depth version of the traditional cookie cutter sugar cookies. This is a recipe my father’s mother uses every year around the holidays. Last year, when he was feeling nostalgic, he asked if we could make them for Christmas. Our waistlines regretted the decision.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking soda dissolved in 2 tbsp. milk
  • 4 ½ cups flour
  • 1/3 tsp. anise oil (or 1 tsp. vanilla)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • various holiday themes cookie cutters

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Cream butter and sugar.
  • Add anise oil, milk, soda and eggs.
  • Then, add salt and cream of tartar sifted with 2 cups flour.
  • Add enough more flour to make a dough that may be rolled (chilling helps with handling).
  • Roll on lightly floured board to desire thickness. Cut and bake on ungreased cookie sheets for 8-15 minutes.
  • Frost and sugar to decorate.

 

Hot Cocoa Cookie Cups

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Photo courtesy of TheGunnySack.com

This is a recipe that my sister-in-law found on Pinterest and treated us to two years ago. They look absolutely adorable, and they combine two beloved holiday favorites: hot cocoa and cookies. Oh, and it has chocolate ganache. Bam.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 package Pillsbury Sugar Cookie Dough
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons hot cocoa mix
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips
  • 12 mini pretzels
  • 1 cup Jet-Puffed Mallow Bits
  • *optional – granulated sugar


Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Put 1 tablespoon of the sugar cookie dough into 24 greased mini muffin tins.
  • *Update – an optional step would be to roll the sugar cookie dough balls in granulated sugar before putting them into the mini muffin tins to help prevent sticking.
  • Bake for 12-14 minutes at 375°F. Allow the cookies to cool completely in the pan before gently removing them.
  • Make the chocolate ganache by bringing the whipping cream to a boil.
  • Stir in the hot cocoa mix.
  • Pour the hot cream over the semi-sweet chocolate chips and let it sit for 3 minutes. Then, stir until the chocolate chips are melted and the ganache is smooth.
  • Break off the loops on some mini pretzels to use as handles.
  • Melt the white chocolate and use it to attach the pretzel handles to the cookie cups.
  • Spoon the chocolate ganache into the cookie cups and top with mini marshmallows.

For best results, store the hot chocolate cookie cups in the refrigerator.

 

Leg Lamp Cookies

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Photo courtesy of Delish.com

A Christmas Story is a classic Holiday movie. In fact, I know first-hand that this is the favorite Christmas movie of the founder of #NAMB. Of course, who can forget the infamous leg lamp? Try your best to not shoot your eye out while munching on these cookies.

  • 1 tube sugar cookie dough
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 container black cookie icing
  • 6 packages Reese’s Big Cups
  • 1 jar peanut butter (16-ounce or less)
  • Yellow icing

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine cookie dough and flour. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick, then use a paring knife to draw the shape of a heeled leg for each cookie.
  • Bake for 10-11 minutes, or until cookies are lightly golden around the edges. Set aside to cool.
  • Use the black cookie icing to draw a heel on the leg lamp, as well as a crosshatch design to mimic the fishnet stockings. Place in the refrigerator to harden, about 10 minutes.
  • Remove Reese’s cups from wrappers, slice each in half length-wise. Dab a little peanut butter on the cut side of each Reese’s cup, then gently press it against the top of the sugar cookie.
  • Coat the Reese’s cup with yellow icing, using a small silicone spatula or pastry brush to spread it, filling in the crevices on the peanut butter cup, so it looks like the yellow lampshade. Place in the refrigerator to cool, about 10 minutes.

 

Enjoying the Holiday Season as a Twenty-to-Thirtysomething

Adulting, Author: Gauri Bhatia

Ho, ho, ho, Jingle Bells, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, etc., etc.

The holiday season is filled with exciting and fun things to do! I won’t get into the actual religious celebrations, as I only celebrate them insomuch as I get presents. But here are a list of fun things to do this month to end the year on a great note!

  • If you get the chance, spend some time with your family. Talk, play cards, play chess, watch holiday-inspired movies…all of it!
  • Bake cookies! I personally love to go to my best friend’s parents’ house and bake corn flake wreaths, thumbprint cookies, or really whatever her mom lets me make!
  • Listen to Christmas music, some of which is featured in this issue!

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  • Go and see the windows on Fifth Avenue (or your home state’s version of it)! Nearly every store has a window display and I assure you, they are magical. Saks Fifth Avenue does a sort of laser light show on the windows, which is spectacular. Macy’s has two displays this year, one centering on the new film, Trolls, and their usual one around “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.” Bloomingdale’s has a “Sing” centered display, and the Cartier building is usually wrapped in a bright red bow. If you can’t make it to New York, we even found a directory of holiday celebrations in other major U.S. cities just for you.
  • Go to a tree lighting! In New York, see the tree at Rockefeller Center. It is always amazing, with the ice skaters all around and with a bit of a chill in the air. We’ve also provided a list of tree lightings in other major U.S. cities.
  • Ice skating in Rockefeller Center, Central Park, or Bryant Park…or your hometown equivalent. All are amazing!
  • Sit back and enjoy a nice cup of hot chocolate or eggnog. I am not a huge fan of eggnog, so I can’t give you any advice there, but Williams-Sonoma hot chocolate is to die for. A must-have holiday tradition!

Happy Holidays, everyone! And Happy New Year of course!