In 1923, First Lady Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge, would start the tradition of lighting the National Christmas Tree at the White House in Washington DC. On Christmas Eve of 1923, the first tree was a 48 ft. balsam fir from Coolidge’s native state of Vermont, lit on the south side of the White House area called the Ellipse.
Today the tree is a 26 ft. evergreen from New Jersey that replaces the 40 ft. Colorado blue spruce from York, PA that blew down last February, and had been planted on the Ellipse in 1978. Not to be confused with the Capitol Christmas Tree – which is cut down from a different National Forest each year and brought to Washington with decorations from its home state – the National Christmas Tree grows in the Ellipse year-round and is a permanent fixture in Washington.
The National Christmas Tree is no longer lit on Christmas Eve, but on December 1 at 5pm by the President and his family with military bands playing. The Christmas Tree is not the only decoration; there is now a Yule log, a large scale model train, and a Santa’s workshop that stay on the Ellipse until January 1 to enjoy throughout the Christmas season.
Other favorite holiday celebrations and exhibits in DC are:
Union Station Norwegian Model Train Display thru Jan. 1
Holiday Magic at the United States Botanical Gardens thru Jan. 1
National Cathedral Handel’s Messiah by combined choirs Dec. 2, 3, 4
JFK Performing Arts Center Nutcracker by NSO Dec. 15-18
A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre thru Dec. 31
If that is not enough then you can lace up your skates or rent some and try your skills at ice skating on the rink at the National Sculpture Gardens across from the National Archives.
Tim Kelly is an experienced Viator guide and offers tours throughout Washington DC. Learn more about Washington DC Expert Tim.