At 5:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve, 1923, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse and "pushed the button" to light the first National Christmas Tree. A crowd of 3,000 witnessed the inaugural lighting of the 48-foot, cut Balsam fir, donated by Middlebury College, Vermont. For the next thirty years, live trees were lit at various locations on or near the White House grounds. Finally, in 1954, the ceremony returned to the Ellipse.
Cut trees served as National Christmas Trees until 1973. It was then decided to plant a permanent live tree. The current National Christmas Tree, a 40-foot Colorado blue spruce was transplanted from York, Pennsylvania, in October 1978. Since President Coolidge began the tradition in 1923, each presidential administration has participated in the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.
President Coolidge lights the first National Christmas Tree in 1923.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt speaks at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree ceremony on Christmas Eve, 1941. The Oriental spruce, shown above in the color photograph, still stands today on the south lawn of the White House.
The National Christmas Tree decorated (above) in 1996. The Colorado blue spruce was transplanted (right) to the Ellipse in 1978.